Hammers off bottom for just two minutes

West Ham United 0 Blackpool 0: Grant pledges not to give up but the decision might not be his to make
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The Independent Football

For two minutes yesterday West Ham climbed off the bottom of the table, then Wolves pulled a goal back against Bolton to match their goal difference and the Hammers hit bedrock again.

With a third of the season gone West Ham are five points adrift of safety with no sign of escaping the relegation zone. Avram Grant pledged: ''I have no intention to give up," but the manager sounded like Comical Ali on Mogadon as he insisted everything was fine except the results. This was the third of four matches from which co-owner David Sullivan had demanded seven points. So far the return is three draws, and the final match of the quartet is at Anfield on Saturday.

Grant's first recourse was to blame the officials. "I am waiting for the day I do not have to speak about decisions," he said. "What has happened this season is a disgrace. We had a clear two penalties."

One claim was borderline; even after several replays it was not clear if Stephen Crainey had fouled Pablo Barrera. The other, a handball appeal against Craig Cathcart, would have been a tough call, and it was balanced when Scott Parker similarly escaped punishment for controlling the ball with his arm in the other penalty box.

After it was also pointed out to Grant that Blackpool had a decent goal chalked off when Marlon Harewood was wrongly adjudgedoffside as he turned in Luke Varney's 68th-minute shot, he conceded: "It is not just about the referee."

Grant added: "We created enough chances, we did everything right, we just did not score. Maybe the players have lost confidence because we are at the bottom of the League. In the last two games we scored twice but conceded two goals. Today we kept a clean sheet, but we did not score."

West Ham kept a clean sheet only because Blackpool's finishing was equally abysmal. It was an open game, the sort to make Roberto Mancini hold his arms aloft in bemusement, yet though both defences were opened up continually and according to the statisticians there were 47 shots, the three goalkeepers made only one decent save between them.

That was by Richard Kingson, a half-time substitute for Matt Gilks, who acrobatically clawed away a shot from Mark Noble with 12 minutes left. Noble was playing 12 days after having his appendix removed, the sort of spirit West Ham need in their growing crisis. Grant's other team change from their midweek draw with West Bromwich was also unexpected, Victor Obinna replacing Carlton Cole.

Ian Holloway was more radical. While he does not countenance suggestions that the dirt-trackers who played in midweek were an under-strength side, noting they had given him a "fantastic" selection problem, dropping them all did devalue that assertion. The last manager to make 11 changes at Upton Park was Sven Goran Eriksson, at half-time in England's defeat by Australia. Holloway has been as unapologetic about his team changes as Eriksson was, but it did seem to cock a snook at the Premier League, who are already investigating the 10 he made at Villa Park.

The Hammers last lost at home to Blackpool in 1934, when George V was on the throne, Bonnie and Clyde were on the run, and Stanley Matthews was a promising teenager. It was also the last peace-time occasion that Britain had a coalition government. Blackpool thrice went close in the last 20 minutes. Gary Taylor-Fletcher missed from four yards, Harewood from even closer, then Taylor-Fletcher inadvertently blocked Cathcart's close-range volley.

For West Ham the outstanding Parker set up three excellent chances with his driving running and clever passing but Barrera, twice, and Luis Boa Morte wasted them.

The game finished with Barrera shooting wildly wide when a simple cross would have provided a tap-in for Parker. The latter was disgusted, and to judge from the response of the home support as the whistle went seconds later he was not alone.

Attendance: 31,194

Referee: Kevin Friend

Man of the match: Parker

Match rating: 7/10

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