x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Grant should face the bare facts

While West Ham's manager has been pulling excuses out of the bag, it is plain to see that his team are the league's worst.

Robert Green, the West Ham goalkeeper, contemplates defeat after conceding a third goal against Manchester City on Saturday.
Robert Green, the West Ham goalkeeper, contemplates defeat after conceding a third goal against Manchester City on Saturday.

Upton Park has acquired a reputation as one of the louder grounds in English football. It was deathly quiet on Saturday, a funereal gloom setting in at West Ham United's east London home.

It is Avram Grant's misfortune that, with his perpetual gloom, he is often likened to an undertaker. Yet should West Ham continue at the same rate, the last rites will be required for this spell as a top-flight club.

The bare facts are that, with almost half the season gone, they trail each of the three promoted clubs - Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool - by 10 points.

With the most home defeats in the Premier League and without an away win, theirs are the credentials for relegation. Being beaten by Manchester City, as they were this weekend, is no disgrace. It is the cumulative effect of the defeats that is the cause for concern.

That has caused the depression among the supporters. Three weeks ago, they taunted Grant in the surrender to Liverpool. This weekend, resignation replaced ridicule.

Grant's response was to ask for £10 million (Dh58m) to spend in the January transfer window. It was the sort of statement that should prompt David Gold and David Sullivan, the joint chairmen, to discuss the manager's own future.

Seven players arrived in the summer and while West Ham are unfortunate that Thomas Hitzlsperger, the supposed flagship signing, is yet to play, the other six do not include a qualified success, let alone an unqualified one. There is nothing to provide confidence that Grant is the man to spend any further funds.

Hitzlsperger's current role is to provide a regular excuse. Mumbled moans about injuries have become a constant from Grant, though as several of the sidelined are at best fringe players and other clubs (Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Fulham, to name but a few) are missing more of their premier performers, it hardly accounts for an explanation of West Ham's plight.

Instead, Grant's constant complaints and downbeat demeanour have served to reinforce the impression many had already formed: that he is scarcely a motivator.

West Ham have already looked for reinforcements. The recruitment of Wally Downes as the defensive coach brought back-to-back clean sheets against Wigan Athletic and Manchester United.

The green shoots of recovery were swiftly trampled down. Two games, and four goals later, it looks, if not a false dawn, then a simplistic assumption that his arrival would make a radical difference.

That would probably require a change at the helm instead. West Ham's lack of spirit, most apparent in their anaemic displays against Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, reflects on the manager. So does the league position.

Because, despite the attempts to portray West Ham as impoverished, unfortunate and persecuted by referees, theirs is neither the smallest budget nor, man for man, the worst squad in the league. But, even with the wholehearted efforts of the ever-excellent Scott Parker, they are the poorest team at the moment.

It poses a problem for owners who are a strange mixture of the outspoken and the loyal. Sullivan and Gold only dismissed three managers in 17 years at Birmingham City. Widely criticised for the ruthless sacking of Gianfranco Zola in May, they have a window of opportunity before a group of more winnable fixtures and the chance to resume trading.

Some of that £10m may be best spent compensating Grant after dispensing with his services.

* * *

Mistake or clever piece of psychology? Carlo Ancelotti's decision to leave Didier Drogba on the Chelsea bench in the first half at White Hart Lane seemed to backfire when Tottenham Hotspur led at the interval.

When the Ivorian emerged to equalise, it appeared to have galvanised him. The late penalty miss notwithstanding, it was Drogba's best performance for two months.

* * *

One game is not enough to persuade the many doubters, but what a start it was for Alan Pardew.

It was not merely the result, a 3-1 win over Liverpool, but the way that, when Roy Hodgson's side were in the ascendant, Newcastle's new manager made a telling substitution, bringing on the teenager Nile Ranger, to swing the momentum back his side's way.

* * *

The other revealing factor in Liverpool's sixth away defeat of the season was just how much the Merseysiders missed the commitment and communication Jamie Carragher provides when fit.

When Andy Carroll was virtually unmarked to set up Kevin Nolan for the first goal and left unchecked for the third, when Joey Barton showed more desire than the Liverpool defence for the second, it was easy to wonder what difference a screaming Carragher would have made.

* * *

It is one of the season's stranger statistics that, when David Murphy took the injured left-back Liam Ridgewell's place for Birmingham in Sunday's game at Wolves, it was the first defensive change manager Alex McLeish had made all season.

Ben Foster in goal, Stephen Carr at right-back and the centre-halves Roger Johnson and Scott Dann are all ever-presents. It is why, though results are uninspiring, Birmingham are still hard to break down.