Pardew left swaying on high wire by circus at West Ham

Hammers have been hamstrung by a takeover saga, the Argentine misfits and the fiasco at Chesterfield but the board is backing the manager. By Glenn Moore
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I'm forever blowing bubbles

Pretty bubbles in the air

They fly so high, nearly reach the sky

Then like my dreams, they fade and die

Rarely has the West Ham United anthem seemed so appropriate. At the beginning of this season, the mood at Upton Park was buoyant. Alan Pardew's bright young team, replete with native talent, had concluded a promising return to the Premiership by being unluckily beaten in one of the great FA Cup finals. They were back in European competition and their centre-forward, Dean Ashton, was about to make his international debut.

Then, as he tussled for a loose ball with Shaun Wright-Phillips in England's final training session, Ashton broke his ankle.

In retrospect, West Ham's current crisis can be dated from that moment as much as from the unsettling arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, accompanied by takeover speculation.

At the time, Ashton's injury seemed a personal tragedy, a young man's first England cap snatched away. Now, the repercussions spread, imperilling Pardew's employment, West Ham's Premiership status, even their future. For which self-respecting millionaire would wish to buy a debt-laden team heading for the Championship?

Those dreams of August, they have faded and died, and a change in fortune is hiding.

Yesterday, Pardew admitted that his side's plight represents the lowest point of his entire career.

"It's the worst run of my career, in terms of a player and a manager. It's not getting any easier and the only way to turn it around is to come out fighting," Pardew said.

"I intend to do that and I hope the players do too, and not look around and point at somebody else and look for excuses."

At the start of the season, Pardew intended to make Ashton the focal point of the team. The striker was leaner than he had been for years, and hungry. He could lead the line, link the play, give the team presence. Nevertheless, West Ham initially seemed to make light of his absence, with Ashton's stand-in, Bobby Zamora, scoring twice in the opening-day defeat of Charlton and once in the subsequent draw at Watford. But without Ashton's aerial threat, West Ham are easier to defend against. They have lost eight games on the trot and won none in 11.

The Argentines arrived as the transfer window shut. To his dismay, Pardew realised that neither was match fit and Tevez, in particular, was carrying "timber". He barely seemed to have trained since the World Cup where he had impressed many observers, including Pardew.

Much as Pardew was pleased to have the pair, their acquisition, in strange and opaque circumstances, was thrust upon him. It was immediately followed by speculation over a takeover which, seven weeks later, continues with no end in sight.

Then followed the home and away defeats to Palermo. The Uefa Cup draw had been unkind to West Ham, pitting them with a team on the up. Palermo currently lead Serie A having defeated Milan at the weekend.

But the domestic fixture list has been less cruel. Only Portsmouth, of the teams West Ham have lost to, are in the top eight. In such circumstances, confidence sluices away, especially with a young team. So Pardew gambled at Saltergate. He picked his first team, the Argentines apart, in the hope of claiming a desperately needed victory. To then lose was a body blow. Many managers - having overseen a club's worst run in 74 years, exits from two competitions, and a slide into the relegation zone - would now be shown the door.

There are several reasons why he has not. The board may simply be backing him. More likely it is the lack of alternatives, both within, and without, and the cost. The departure to Norwich of the influential coach, Peter Grant, means Pardew's support staff is Keith Peacock - 61 years old and untried at this level - and Kevin Keen, 39, who is a former manager of Macclesfield.

External candidates will be put off by the takeover saga. Who would take a job in the knowledge that their employer is about to sell up, and the new owner may want to install his own man?

Alan Curbishley has been mentioned but he has turned down West Ham in the past. He feels he is too close to the job, as he lives in Hammers' territory.

Then there is the cost of sacking a man who signed a new, much enhanced deal last summer. Plus the expense of changing the team as the new man brings his own players in. Many of the current squad have been given long-term deals, a factor which may account for the lack of hunger in some of their performances.

The players have let Pardew down, something the fans appear to recognise, and the chairman, to judge from reports that Terry Brown stormed into the dressing-room at Saltergate, told the players they were "a pub team" and he had wasted £16,000 on accommodation and transport.

Nigel Reo-Coker, the captain, seems to have been unsettled by talk of Manchester United and Arsenal being interested in him, and clearly dislikes playing on the right flank, West Ham's problem position. Others, like Paul Konchesky, Marlon Harewood and Anton Ferdinand are not matching the form of last year.

If there is hope for Pardew it lies in the example of Everton, last season. Like West Ham this campaign, they started with high expectations having qualified for the Champions' League. They lost 12 and won two of their opening 15 matches. A year ago today, a Carling Cup defeat to Middlesbrough meant they had been knocked out of three competitions, were in the relegation zone and struggling to make the finances add up. Everton kept faith in their bright young manager and put down to experience the awful signings of Per Koldrup and Matteo Ferrari. Today, Everton are prospering anew.

Can Pardew, and West Ham, do the same? Brown wants to sell, and the defeats are weakening the club's appeal. Relegation would be catastrophic. After Sunday's home match with Blackburn, West Ham play Arsenal and Chelsea either side of a visit to Middlesbrough, so Sunday is a must-win game. It is the Premiership's first match after the clocks go back: Pardew will hope the onset of winter does not leave him out in the cold.

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