West Ham left facing ordinary future

Coventry City 1 West Ham United 1
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The Independent Football

Three seasons ago - and for many years before that - this would have been a Premiership fixture. Now, a meeting of the sides stands as a grim reminder of the dangers of over-reaching for top-flight survival.

Coventry City have not only become part of the First Division furniture but also a club more worried about relegation and building a new stadium than genuinely eyeing promotion. West Ham United find themselves where Saturday's opponents were 18 months or so ago, under new management and locked into the reality of either escaping the Nationwide League in a hurry or facing a long stretch in it.

Having failed to stay up with Cole, Kanouté, Sinclair, Bowyer, Johnson, Di Canio, Schemmel and Ferdinand (Les, not Rio), the Hammers are now trying to go up without them. Even for fans disillusioned by how so much talent could have ended up in the bottom three of the Premiership last season, it is little mystery why there is now an ordinariness about the squad.

Unless you include the clean-catching David James, only Jermain Defoe stood out here: his well taken early goal doing nothing to douse the speculation that he will leave in January's transfer window.

His goal tally is in double figures already this season and West Ham's parlous financial state will ensure that Manchester United get him if they want him. Despite the striker's punishing of some untypical hesitancy by Coventry's player-manager, Gary McAllister, Alan Pardew's reign has begun as Trevor Brooking's latest caretaker stint ended - with a run of draws.

It is five in a row now in the League and the new manager did not question the chorus of boos that sounded from the packed visitors' areas of Highfield Road at full-time. "It was a bit of a mish-mash and the fans made it clear how they felt," he said. "They were quite correct to be disappointed."

Brian Deane, whose debut was promising enough to suggest that Pardew is set on adding a more direct dimension to his team's play, might have expected to profit from the stream of corners the Hammers won.

But they lacked their traditional quality and the best moments of the contest came with the build-up to and execution of Graham Barrett's close-range equaliser late in the first half. McAllister, absent from the side for four weeks because of an illness to his wife, had no target man in attack and is sticking by his admirable footballing principles.

Fitful though they are, Coventry were ultimately every bit as likely as their visitors to take the extra two points. But McAllister remains infuriated by their difficulty in recording back-to-back wins. In the end the game was, essentially, mid-table First Division fare - and that's what the away following found so hard to stomach.

Goals: Defoe (15) 0-1; Barrett (38) 1-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Arphexad; Whing, Konjic, Shaw, Warnock; Barrett (Pead, 89), McAllister, Safri, Doyle; Morrell, Suffo. Substitutes not used: Shearer (gk), Gordon, Adebola, Davenport.

West Ham United (4-4-2): James; Repka, Dailly, Pearce, Quinn; Lee (Garcia, 57), Mullins, Horlock, Etherington; Deane, Defoe. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Ferdinand, Kilgallon, Mellor.

Referee: G Salisbury (Preston).

Attendance: 19,126.

Man of the match: Defoe.