Disaster averted as Grant gamble pays off
West Ham United 2 Barnsley 0: Fresh legs have desired effect in giving West Ham's manager a longer run
Sunday 09 January 2011
As the man who took Portsmouth to the FA Cup final last May, Avram Grant knows all about the old competition's ability to allow an escape from the grimmest of realities.
It remains to be seen whether this advance into the fourth round is anything more, or indeed less, than a stay of execution. And from this distance it is still easy to envisage the lifeline tying itself into a noose. But it was another disaster averted for the manager whose employment was placed under such scrutiny by the 5-0 defeat at Newcastle which hauled West Ham back into the bottom three.
Saying that, the day began ominously for Grant as Karren Brady, the club's vice chairman, all but admitted in her national newspaper column the manager had been overruled on the proposed Steve Sidwell transfer from Aston Villa, saying West Ham had enough midfielders. Grant smiled wryly when asked about this apparent undermining. "All I will say is I will never make this mistake again," he said. "I spoke about it before the deal was done because I thought it had been done."
He vowed to concentrate only on the football and with Birmingham arriving for the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final on Tuesday there is much to focus on. Indeed, yesterday, there was a palpable feeling of a bigger Cup tie to follow; both in the attendance – many thousands down on the average – and Grant's starting XI. If he was a manager fighting for his career then he took one Russian roulette of a gamble by changing eight of the team who stumbled so spectacularly. But then, the shake-up did have the desired response.
Grant needed no warning about the potential for embarrassment, especially against Barnsley. It was at Oakwell three years ago where the Championship side knocked out Grant in the Cup quarter-finals, and he had the might of Chelsea at his disposal back then.
In truth, these Tykes were mere scamps compared to their 2008 predecessors. Although they did have a couple of grievances to console themselves with on the long trip back to Yorkshire; hitting the bar in the final minute before West Ham scored their second and, earlier, the referee turning away what seemed a certain penalty. But commendably, their manager was having none of it. "You might say we came within a crossbar of getting a replay, but in fact we came within six saves of losing 7-0," said Mark Robins.
West Ham would not have been unworthy of a 4-0 half-time lead, yet all they had to show for their considerable efforts was Jonathan Spector's goal after 29 minutes. The former Manchester United man took it nicely – a clinical finish off the excellent Mark Noble's pass – which is infinitely more than could be said of Zavon Hines 10 minutes later. A fine move involving Pablo Barrera and Noble set up the England Under-21 international with an open goal from three yards. But he hesitated and then found the diving frame of the brilliant Luke Steele.
To a much lesser extent, Frank Nouble, Victor Obinna and Barrera were also guilty of profligacy and it served to give Barnsley an undeserved sniff. They believed they had grasped the opportunity when the substitute Jacob Butterfield, on the pitch all of a minute, went down under a crude challenge from Winston Reid. Neil Swarbrick thought differently and West Ham were startled back into action.
Nouble fluffed another, Steele made a brilliant double save from Barrera and Hines and the final seconds witnessed moments of classic FA Cup. First Adam Hammill watched a deflected strike loop over Robert Green and crash off the crossbar and, as his hands were in his head in despair, the substitute Frédéric Piquionne was blazing it high into the net at the other end. Cruel on Barnsley, kind on Grant. How he will pray the fates, and yes the board, retain their patronage.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Man of the match: Steele
Match rating: 6/10
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