All quiet on the West Ham front. Quiet at least behind the two mock castellated towers guarding the entrance to Upton Park; there is to be no changing of the guard. Not just yet. Sam Allardyce remains as manager and will take his beleaguered side to Cardiff on Saturday for a fixture he dare not lose. On Thursday he promised he and his men will “come out fighting”
It was only on Monday that David Gold and David Sullivan, the club’s co-chairmen, publicly supported their manager and, despite the second humiliation of a painful week in losing 6-0 at Manchester City on Wednesday, when West Ham produced a display as wet as the weather, they have not changed their minds. On Thursday, the sixth anniversary of Allardyce’s abrupt departure from Newcastle, was not marked by another sorry ending. Anything like a repeat performance on Saturday though, a third damp squib of the week after the 5-0 FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest last weekend, and the Upton Park drawbridge may well be lowered and Allardyce ushered out.
In keeping with the Big Sam way, he has no intention of exiting quietly, although supporters may wonder why this fighting spirit was nowhere to be seen on Wednesday.
“You either come out fighting or you sink and die – I come out fighting as a manager and my staff and players are the same,” Allardyce wrote in an email to supporters. “We’ve got to get out there, face the music and use it to anger us, if you like, make us mad, and win football matches.”
“Out there” there was plenty of bad-mood music on Thursday. Former West Ham players and supporters queued up to condemn the manager. “Disgraceful,” was Julian Dicks’ take. The fans’ was less polite. Those who made the 400-mile round trip to the Etihad made that quite clear.
“I can understand how the fans feel,” said Dicks. “The football isn’t good, the lack of passion and pride is awful.”
Earlier in the week Allardyce had suggested those against him were a vocal minority. The fans he came across around Canary Wharf, in east London, where he has an apartment, were supportive, he insisted. They understood the problems, the injury list, the need to prioritise fixtures. That was accepted by his employers but the nature of the losses at Nottingham Forest and City have weakened the manager. The raw abuse sent his way on Wednesday as he munched his way through his four packs of chewing gum was not from a minority of the travelling support. It was a vocal majority and it marked a sea change that would make surviving a bad defeat in Cardiff difficult indeed for the 59-year-old.
Allardyce has put his eggs into a basket marked Cardiff-or-bust. That is having restocked the club’s egg cupboard after putting the previous batch into a £15m one marked Andy Carroll. Preaching that the Forest game mattered less than the City game, that mattered less than tomorrow’s game when the likes of James Collins and James Tomkins return to shore up the defence, leaves no wriggle room should things go wrong on the other side of the Severn Bridge.
“The players can’t feel sorry for themselves,” said Allardyce in his email. “We are professionals and we’ve got to take the criticism thrown at us because that’s what happens at this level. We’ve got to be man enough to take it on the chin and be determined enough to show people that what they think at this particular moment is wrong.”
West Ham flew back late from Manchester after the game on Wednesday. Last Thursday the players underwent treatment in a cryotherapy chamber designed to ease tired muscles and speed recovery. Carroll, Tomkins and Collins may all play a part tomorrow, although Tomkins’ return to fitness was not helped by having to make a court appearance on Thursday to plead not guilty to a charge of assaulting a police officer outside an Essex nightclub.
Ricardo Vaz Te is also on the mend and Ravel Morrison will come into contention to start, even if his long-term future at the club remains uncertain. He is not alone.
“We’re going through a difficult time and trying to come through the other end,” said George McCartney, who filled in haplessly at centre-half on Wednesday. “It’s not going to be easy [to forget about this] as defeats like that are hard to take.”
West Ham will be without Kevin Nolan, serving a four-game ban, and Winston Reid, the key figure in the club’s early-season solidity. It is the loss of the Nolan of last season and the Mohamed Diame of last season, providing goals, drive and steel, from midfield that has stymied West Ham’s forward progress as much as Carroll’s absence and the lack of striking alternatives. The goals have dried up for Nolan; instead, the tetchiness that has always been part of his game has taken over to negative effect. Diame simply looks a different player, one sapped of his strength by the struggles around him.
Much, probably too much, rests on Carroll’s shoulders and the hope that he and Nolan can reconnect as they did on occasions – and it was only on occasions – last season. Meanwhile, Allardyce and Sullivan remain busy in looking to recruit a striker and another centre-half. A deal for the giant Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traoré edges closer but what happened on Wednesday was no enticement for potential recruits.
The odds about Allardyce becoming the next Premier League manager sacked shortened on Thursday. Sullivan, swaddled in his hat and greatcoat, resembled a Soviet-era general at the Etihad but clearly is blessed with greater patience than a Red Army man would have had for his underlings’ failings. That is in one part because Sullivan and Gold are not trigger-happy chairmen and another owing to financial considerations. Allardyce is in the first of a two-year deal. It would cost an estimated £4.5m to dismiss him. And then there is this oddity: if West Ham sacked Allardyce and Allardyce applied for the vacancy he would seem like the ideal candidate to drag a club out of this hole – even if it is a hole he has helped dig…
The likes of Frank Rijkaard, Malky Mackay and Slaven Bilic would be contenders should a position arise but no replacement is lined up. For the moment West Ham stick with Plan Sam.
For Allardyce it will be something of a relief to stay away from Upton Park for one more week. It would not take much to turn the air blue and increase the pressure and tension around a group of players who have not shown themselves well-equipped to deal with it in recent weeks.
There are two sides to the trip, though. It will be the first home game for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, a young manager with a bright future, and if events once more take a turn for the worse, Gold and Sullivan may find it hard to resist the promise of something new.