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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Pressure on both David Moyes and Mark Hughes as West Ham face Southampton in relegation six-pointer

Both men's legacies would be hurt if their respective sides are relegated from the Premier League this season

West Ham United are on a run of one win in eight games under manager David Moyes. John Sibley / Action Images via Reuters
West Ham United are on a run of one win in eight games under manager David Moyes. John Sibley / Action Images via Reuters

Perhaps the most memorable shot was of the club captain wrestling with a fellow fan on the pitch. Or maybe it was that of another supporter planting a flag in the centre circle.

Possibly it was of hundreds of angry fans gathered around a rapidly emptying directors’ box. Or it might have been of Trevor Brooking, one of West Ham United’s greatest players and a seeming anachronism in his dignity, left sat alone in the posh seats, watching a 3-0 defeat to Burnley.

Whichever, the last game at the London Stadium on March 10 offered rich pickings for photographers. The pictures of a club at war with itself will acquire a greater symbolism if West Ham are sent spiralling into the Championship. And yet Saturday's visitors’ plight may be worse.

The most telling image is of the league table. It shows West Ham and Southampton in 17th and 18th, either side of the dotted line and both dicing with demotion.

Because West Ham’s dissent has been loud and public and Southampton’s quiet and more private, the former have commanded more attention. There are common denominators, though.

Both have changed manager, looking to veteran Brits for salvation. West Ham brought in David Moyes in November, getting first revival and then regression. Southampton plumped for Mark Hughes two weeks ago, looking for a new-manager bump in his first league game.

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But Saturday’s match reflects the almost complete collapse of the Premier League’s middle class. “Relegation for a club the size of West Ham, with the seventh highest wage bill in the division, could be hugely damaging to our long-term future,” wrote Brooking in the London Evening Standard.

So, too, for Southampton. Both have plenty of players of Premier League quality and cost. Neither has got the results.

It is a moot point whose plight is most severe: Southampton, because they only have one home game remaining against any of the bottom 15, or West Ham, because the fans have been in revolt?

This week, captain Mark Noble wrote an open letter to them. Brooking called for unity in his Standard column, summarising his feelings in the Burnley game “in three words: shock, sadness and frustration”.

So cameras will be trained on the stands again. A security barrier is being erected in front of the directors’ box after coins were thrown, striking co-owner David Sullivan. It is, though, also a tale of other leaders, who are under a different sort of fire.

Both were born in 1963. Moyes first managed in the Premier League in 2002, Hughes in 2004. This could prove the final year in the division for either: the Scot because, if West Ham go down, he will have the stigma of successive relegations and the Welshman because, if both Southampton and Stoke finish in the bottom three, he will be partly responsible for two demotions in the same season.

Mark Hughes got off to a winning start at Southampton but is in danger of having the side he currently manages, and the side he led until January, Stoke City, fired in the same season. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Mark Hughes got off to a winning start at Southampton but is in danger of having the side he currently manages, and the side he led until January, Stoke City, fired in the same season. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Each is entitled to argue that his experience and a record containing more in the credit than debit column entitled him to more opportunities, but the division has a supposedly safety-first culture of granting second chance to ageing British managers and none to some of their younger counterparts.

Hughes tried to present himself as a breath of fresh air by fielding two strikers on his Southampton bow, the 2-0 FA Cup win at Wigan Athletic.

Moyes initially revived West Ham by using Marko Arnautovic, a winger for Hughes at Stoke, as a centre-forward but a run of one victory in eight outings gives him the lowest win percentage of any of West Ham’s permanent managers.

For one, it promises to be another unpleasant occasion, even if the images from the London Stadium are unlikely to be as startling as they were 13 days ago.