x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Anniversary points for beleaguered Grant

West Ham pick up a much needed three points against fellow strugglers Wigan, but uncertainty still looms over the future of their manager.

LONDON // It had almost been enough to make you feel sorry for that old impostor Avram Grant. West Ham United's ever-cogent owners steadfastly refuse to sack the man, but they did not half-embellish the build-up to a match that completed the Israeli's year-long tenure in the relegation places.

This, declared the Davids, Gold and Sullivan, was the "Save Our Season" game, imploring fans to cheer their team to victory. A mere four months after arriving at Upton Park, Grant's unpopular assistant Zeljko Petrovic had been dismissed, and a new defensive coach, Wally Downes, employed to attempt to sort out the rearguard.

A rare, and rather scrappy, victory later, Grant remained at the foot of the Premier League. Since taking charge of Portsmouth last November, Grant has never raised his players out of the drop zone, yet at least he could celebrate the ugly anniversary in continued employment.

"I never think about myself," he said. "I cannot, because I'm in a job where always there are rumours. I need to concentrate on my job and do my job. [Save our season], it's a marketing thing I think. I'm sorry, but I always say to the marketing [people] you can do whatever you want as long as you don't come in my area. I'm not advising what to do; maybe because of them the support was very good today."

Reduced ticket prices almost produced the expected full house as Grant took a knife to his team sheet. Five changes included the complete removal of Herita Ilunga and the relegation of Carlton Cole to the bench after the forward had questioned the manager's tactics.

Atmosphere, however, was another matter - the lukewarm greeting to the former Brentford manager Downes followed by a downbeat opening half hour.

Wigan Athletic's cause was not helped by the fact that their sole striker was the hapless Franco Di Santo.

One of Frank Arnesen's expensive teenage signings at Chelsea, the Argentine's three years in English football had delivered one goal from 52 appearances.

When West Ham took the lead it came courtesy of lax defending. Lars Jacobsen chipped a hopeful ball in from his right-back berth and Frederic Piquionne headed towards Wigan's centre-backs.

Steve Gohouri lamely waved a boot at the ball as Valon Behrami sprinted between him and Steven Caldwell to finish easily.

After the break, Victor Obinna made it 2-0, the Nigeria international scoring his first Premier League goal from an acute angle.

With Di Santo belatedly substituted, Wigan spurned the opportunity to re-enter the game when Mark Halsey's linesman corrected the referee's decision not to penalise an obvious trip on Tom Cleverley. Mauro Boselli's first touch barely directed the spot kick away from Robert Green, who parried.

Still suffering from a chest infection, Scott Parker combined with Obinna for a well-worked third, allowing the home support to hail images of former striker Paulo Di Canio celebrating.

A clean sheet, though, was too much to ask for. Charles N'Zogbia's slalom run unhinged West Ham's reconstructed defence and Cleverley crisply finished.

Lauding Downes's contribution, Grant pointed the way to further specialist appointments; Di Canio perhaps amongst them.

"We are looking for more specific coaches who can do specific things," he said. "For each department, strikers, midfielders, everyone will have his job."

Employ enough of them and West Ham might even be able to work round their problem with Grant.

 

sports@thenational.ae