Playing West Ham at Upton Park is never an easy prospect, as many teams have found to their cost over the years, and it is an interesting question on the subject of whether now being a relegated team will help or hinder their performance. It all really depends on whether the relationship between Avram Grant and the players was, or indeed is strong enough for them to feel the humiliation that he went through last week. PTSD would be quite understandable given the events at the JJB last week.
I fail to understand why the vindictive sacking of Grant took place at an away ground, especially after West Ham were 2-0 up against Wigan last week. That game could have gone either way, and had Robbie Keane been able since January to emulate any of the amazing form of Demba Ba, and showed any of the expert finishing he is known for, there could have been a very different end of season story in East London. But when your chairman and chief executive are perceived to have made their fortunes by exploiting women, one cannot exactly be looking to the board for moral guidance. And predictably, Soccernet is now reporting that Karen Brady is pinning all the blame on Grant - http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story/_/id/921331/brady-pins-blame-on-grant-for-hammers-relegation?cc=5739 - to be honest, there is plenty of blame to go around, with so many underperforming stars this season. I recall all the blame for all West Ham's woes being dumped on Harry Rednapp when he departed the club - and things have turned out well for him!
Whatever one’s take on Grant may be, there is a way to treat people, and the big cheeses at West Ham fell below that standard. Former Upton Park favourite Tony Cottee hit the nail on the head this week: the manager was not treated with respect…Grant was close to tears in the Sky TV post match interview. And I do not go for that “let’s have an English manager” talk; how many Premiership teams have that particular honour? West Brom., Wolves, Stoke, Sunderland, Newcastle and Spurs spring to mind, but they are in a minority at the top level…in my view Grant had plenty of time to pick up the culture at Chelsea and Portsmouth.
So will West Ham’s underperforming stars be playing in hope of impressing on Sunday, and picking lucrative contracts at other clubs? There is already newspaper talk of a Sunderland bid for Ba, and it looks like on current evidence he would be an asset to any team. Any team with Scott Parker, Matthew Upson, Carlton Cole, Hitzelsberger, all backed up by England goalie Robert Green should have fared better than they actually did, and so we had another claret and blue bo-hoo like Burnley last season. It was clear that Grant has had a sword hanging on a thin thread above his head since September. I would personally like to see Grant rehabilitate himself with another club and see some of the success he enjoyed at Chelsea.
Another big question: can Sunderland get their act together on Sunday and finish the season on 47 points? That would possibly be in the top 10 still be their highest Premiership total since the Peter Reid era of the excellent 2000 and 2001 seasons, with 58 and 57 points respectively...and a long way from the expected total of nearer 60 points when we were sitting in 6th place in January after the 2-1 win at Bloomfield Road, but given the horrible injury burden and the departure of Darren Bent, I am just pleased to have eased into mid-table in some ways.
Seeing those two excellent early goals from Bent at the Emirates last week, it is quite clear that the guy has a rare gift – a fact that every Sunderland fan knew after his 25-goal 2009-10 season. OK, I promise I will stop talking about Darren Bent soon…but I remember that chill January day well when Dominic Raynor e-mailed me at my desk to tell me that Steve Bruce had confirmed that dramatic departure to Soccernet.
I knew the club would be “in transition” for some time, but I did not foresee the intensity of some of the rank humiliation the team has seen since January. A decisive win at Upton Park would go some way to heal some of those bad memories…and a close season with positive signings throughout the team, but especially in attack, would be even better.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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