West Ham's problems go deep, and the depth of their now depleted squad is highly unlikely to be sufficient to provide them with even the slightest glimmer of an early return to the Premiership. Nor, on yesterday's showing, are Sheffield United going to do more than be a defiant act.
A couple of wins in the first five days of the season have marginally eased the discontent among the West Ham fans, who had seen their relegated team start their sentence in the First Division so weakened by the sale of players that everything pointed to the club continuing to descend as quickly as a stone down a well. David Connolly, bought from Wimbledon for £285,000, had come off the bench to score the winner against Preston on the opening day, and added two against Rushden in the Carling Cup. He has a high opinion of himself, which is as well, since confidence is not automatic at Upton Park these days.
In spite of West Ham's long Premiership experience and Sheffield narrowly missing promotion to that status last season, yesterday's game was rooted in the standards of the lower division. Not only that, it became entrenched in petty misdemeanour. Sheffield's Robert Page and Chris Morgan, and West Ham's Ian Pearce, were all booked before the 10th minute, and were soon followed by Connolly.
West Ham's new signing from Manchester City, Kevin Horlock, who had been with the London club as a trainee, prompted them encouragingly from central midfield, but little emerged save for a low cross from Jermain Defoe that Connolly could not quite turn in.
Defoe brought a welcome measure of initiative when invading through the left side of the Sheffield penalty area, slipping a couple of tackles and finally being unfortunate to see his well-struck ground-shot clip the far post. The home supporters were only briefly satisfied and soon resorted to amusing themselves with chants against the club's chairman, Terence Brown, who had sworn last week that no more players would be sold and that the previous sales had been financially essential.
It required no injury problems to emphasise that this was a match of perpetual disruption, with both sides having what few joined-up movements they could construct nearly always broken down. West Ham then had to rearrange their defence when Rufus Brevett turned awkwardly and had to be replaced by Richard Garcia, with Horlock taking defensive responsibility on the left.
Speculative long balls were only occasionally interspersed with some thoughtful work in midfield and attack. Stuart McCall and Ashley Ward played a precise one-two that left Jack Lester with a drive narrowly over for Sheffield, but it was more often West Ham's Defoe who offered rare cameos of originality. His weaving through the penalty area deserved better than to finish with a shot that brushed the crossbar.
Slowly, Sheffield raised their midfield game, often helped by West Ham's careless distribution. McCall began to take a grip, but wasted energy arguing with his captain, Page. Sensible communication was noticeably lacking on both sides, and neither manager seemed to have any clue as to how to profit from the other's problems. West Ham's Glenn Roeder even substituted the substitute, Garcia, with Neil Miller. The home fans lost patience, screaming out well before the end.
They are unlikely to agree with Sheffield's manager, Neil Warnock, who said: "Not many teams will finish above West Ham." Roeder himself admitted that the crowd had created an atmosphere that was "not helpful".
West Ham United 0 Sheffield United 0
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 28,972