That corrosive sense of crisis is again enveloping West Ham. A startling late goal by the substitute DaMarcus Beasley, a rare moment of incisive skill in a game of desperate frustration, delivered a second successive away victory for Manchester City against relegation candidates and a second successive home defeat for Alan Curbishley.
The strike, the American winger's first in the Premiership, also punctured a huge hole in the already rapidly deflating optimism surrounding the new manager's arrival at Upton Park. A home defeat to City was a hammer blow to the Hammers following the Boxing Day loss to Portsmouth. How they needed a win. How they showed so little sign of achieving one.
"I knew the problems when I came in," Curbishley said afterwards. "I had no illusion about that." Instead, the illusion was the victory over Manchester United in his first game in charge which had set up what Curbishley said were "glorious opportunities" for his team to propel themselves towards the middle of the table. They have failed to take them.
City have done just that, responding to three defeats with back-to-back wins, the first time they have achieved that in 15 months, having also beaten Sheffield United. That injected some much-needed steel into Stuart Pearce's squad, and the one-time West Ham full-back will have had Curbishley grinding his teeth at two of his pronouncements. Firstly he claimed his old club had its strongest squad since the days of Bobby Moore and then he again mentioned their "talent".
"Everyone keeps telling me they are good players." said a clearly frustrated Curbishley. Everyone, he was clearly implying, might just be wrong. West Ham certainly lack experience and with it that little bit of nous necessary for the scrap. They also lack a goal-scorer - with just seven goals in 18 games - and a striker is the number one priority in the transfer window with Middlesbrough's Mark Viduka heading the list along with another attempt to secure Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea.
West Ham had one threatening effort on target, an early snap-shot in the first-half from Hayden Mullins that was routinely fielded by Nicky Weaver with the City goalkeeper otherwise little more than a spectator as shot after shot slammed over or wide.
Not that Robert Green, in the West Ham goal, had much to do either. Both managers sought to argue that the mitigation was clear. For West Ham, Nigel Reo-Coker and Paul Konchesky were suspended and for City, Joey Barton, with a host of clubs set to try and activate his £5.5m release clause in the transfer window, started his three-match ban. Then there were injuries and illnesses which meant that West Ham were down to 16 fit players, according to Curbishley although Javier Mascherano's exclusion, apparently due to an ankle injury was a bit more confusing. Either way the disenchanted Argentinian did not, apparently, hang around and is thought to have left before kick-off.
Pearce claimed that such were his limited resources that he had had an outfield shirt printed for one of his goalkeepers while Micah Richards, a target for Chelsea of course, showed his precocious versatility by being pushed into central midfield. He acquitted himself well but, in truth, was faced with opponents utterly devoid of confidence.
Much rested on Teddy Sheringham, the stand-in captain. He had a shot deflected narrowly wide, then miscued Yossi Benayoun's low corner before, in the second half, he ballooned over a free-kick from a promising position.
The frustration grew and the West Ham supporters bayed for Carlos Tevez. Their request was granted but although the striker brought some urgency, and cleared the bar with a rising shot after a jinking run, his contribution was, once again, less than decisive in what was his 15th appearance. "They are calling for Tevez but he's not scored a goal," Curbishley said.
Then, inside the final 10 minutes, City did just that. Georgios Samaras, another replacement, shook off a challenge and slipped a pass to Beasley who ran on to the ball at pace, shrugged off Anton Ferdinand and evaded Jonathan Spector, both guilty of reacting weakly, before firing a fierce right-footed shot which squeezed in between Green and the post.
On the touchline Pearce did a manic jig; Curbishley delivered a punch of frustration. But he had just received the killer blow. Harewood sent one final effort flying wide and with it West Ham's hopes died. "I'm a big boy," said Curbishley when asked about the task ahead and the boos at the final whistle. But it's time for his players to grow up.Reuse content