Lee Dixon: I just can't imagine dour Grant being able to inspire players the way Wenger can

The Weekend Dossier
Click to follow
The Independent Football

So far, the West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan have kept faith with their manager Avram Grant despite the club sitting at the bottom of the table.

The Israeli is certainly a dour character and I cannot imagine he is someone who would inspire me in the dressing room. This can be vital on days when a player or two is not feeling at his best.

There were plenty of times at Arsenal when I looked up from below my No 2 peg in the dressing room hoping for Arsène Wenger to say something that might flip the switch and trigger the right response in me. From what I have seen of Grant he is not likely to do that.

I met him recently and he surprised me a bit in that he did try to tell a few jokes. But he has others in his coaching staff who could do that. Avram shows little emotion, but then again neither did Arsène when he first arrived in this country. There was no way he would have thrown that water bottle as he did in last weekend's defeat to Tottenham.

The decision of the West Ham board to call today's match with Wigan the "Save Our Season" game smacks of real desperation. I don't think it does anybody any good talking like that, certainly not the manager or the players. They are just putting greater pressure on themselves – something which, when they are five points from safety, with one win from 14 games, they simply do not need.

And I like Grant's move to appoint Wally Downes as the club's defensive coach. I follow a lot of American sport and they always have specialist coaches for every facet of the game. I don't know why more football clubs don't follow suit. I have heard some good things about Downes – it sounds like a good appointment. And what a great idea it would be if they were also to bring in someone like Paolo di Canio to work with the strikers.

Getting the right backroom staff is vital. At Arsenal, Arsène relies on Pat Rice and Boro Primorac, who is always in the background but has a key role. Grant has seen his assistant Zeljko Petrovic leave the club this week, which is not great for the manager because Petrovic was his appointment a few months ago. Something is clearly not right at West Ham because they have some talented players but they are not getting results.

People might say they have played well in some games and have been unlucky, but we are getting to the stage of the season where the table does not lie. Luck does not come into it. When you have conceded 25 goals and scored only 11, it is not because you are unlucky here and there. It's a horror show.

I have been down there, early in my career, and I know what it's like. When I was at Chester we were 92nd in the Football League, but in those days there was no automatic relegation and we survived when the other chairmen voted to keep us in the League. The following season we brought in 15 new players and there was talk of winning promotion, but we were awful and we finished 91st.

When you are down, cracks start to appear in the squad. If there are people who don't get on in the squad, team spirit acts like a blanket that pulls you all together. But when you lose a lot of games that blanket gets ragged and torn. Players can say things to the papers and you can have a few fiery five-a-side games in training. Players are not robots; they are affected by stress.

You have to say Grant is not getting the best out of the players. That is clear from their League position. Somewhere along the line the board have to decide why that is happening – if it's the fault of the manager or the players. At the moment the board seem to be behind Grant and all credit to them.

But I fear that may change with two or three more defeats. The crowd will get on Grant's back if they don't beat Wigan today, and that is when the board's long-term plan will come under most pressure. How many boards can resist sacking the manager when the crowd starts baying for blood? History shows not many.

The board can give him a vote of confidence but it is hard to resist when fans are vocal, or start voting with their feet and attendances fall. It looks too desperate to call this a "Save Our Season" game – but it is one that West Ham certainly need to win.

Five Asides

1. Special One may have gone too far at Ajax

Winning is so important but the integrity of the game is sacrosanct. I have been in games when a player has got himself a yellow card so he is suspended for one game but available for a more important fixture. However you get into a very grey area when you try to bend the rules in the way Jose Mourinho seemed to during Real's win over Ajax. It is a very serious allegation and the Special One could be in some trouble.

2. Clever Coyle has Bolton on way to top 10 finish

Owen Coyle is the type of rounded, modern manager all owners want. He is young, articulate, has good ideas, and works well on the training ground. He showed his ambition by moving from Burnley to Bolton and the players have responded. While there will be some real tests I expect them to finish in the top half.

3. Chelsea need stars back as owner causes chaos

The root of Chelsea's problems on the pitch is simple – they are missing three great players in Terry, Lampard and Essien. Off the pitch it is more confused. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has distanced himself from the decisions, taken by owner Roman Abramovich, to change his assistants. In that kind of situation, anything could happen.

4. Redknapp's title cry is a very smart move

Harry Redknapp's claim that Spurs could win the title is a canny thing to say. The players start believing it and it helps his case with the chairman for bringing in new players in January.

5. Long season even takes toll on younger players

Cesc Fabregas' hamstring injury shows that playing 50-odd games a season takes its toll, even on the younger players.

Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Aston Villa vs Arsenal

Dixon's verdict: Arsenal have had a horrendous week, and I don't see things getting easier here. A youthful Villa side will welcome back John Carew as they look to make amends after losing at Blackburn last week.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

Bolton Wanderers vs Blackpool

Dixon's verdict: Blackpool got back to winning ways against Wolves but Bolton have been in marvellous form recently. With 13 goals and three wins from their last four, I really can't see anything but a home success here.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Everton vs West Bromwich Albion

Dixon's verdict: Two struggling sides meet at Goodison. David Moyes' side were not convincing at Sunderland and have won one in six, but should have enough to prevail against a Baggies outfit with one win in eight.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Fulham vs Birmingham City

Dixon's verdict: Fulham were swamped by Manchester City last week and will want to make amends, but Birmingham can take a point. They did well to beat Chelsea last weekend and could take a share of the spoils.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

Manchester United vs Blackburn Rovers

Dixon's verdict: United yet again came away with a win this week after not playing well, but I think they may come unstuck against Blackburn. Rovers won at United five years ago and could surprise Sir Alex Ferguson's team.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

Stoke City vs Manchester City

Dixon's verdict: City returned to form at Fulham but face a tough test here. Stoke beat Man City in the FA Cup last season and, following their win over Liverpool this month, could give another of the 'big boys' problems.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

West Ham United vs Wigan Athletic

Dixon's verdict: Avram Grant's position has again come under scrutiny, with even his own players having a pop. Wigan are in equally dire straits, however, and I think the Hammers could get some welcome cheer.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Sunderland

Dixon's verdict: Four defeats since the win over Man City have seen Wolves drop down the league and a well-organised Sunderland should add to their problems. The return of Darren Bent only helps the Black Cats' cause.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Away win

Newcastle United vs Chelsea

Dixon's verdict: My old team-mate Sol Campbell could make a first league start and what a game to play in! Chelsea have struggled, but should have enough in their locker to beat an inconsistent Newcastle side.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Away win

Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool

Dixon's verdict: Spurs continue to impress in Europe, and should keep their form going against a Reds side that does not travel well. The loss of Steven Gerrard will be a key factor in a match that may be decided in midfield.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win