West Ham relegation battle: ‘It’s the hope that kills you’!
The Hammers dropped ever closer to the Premier League trapdoor after Wolves win on Sunday, but there is still hope of salvation.
West Ham fan John Cleese summed it up perfectly. “It’s not the despair. I can cope with the despair. It’s the hope that kills you.”
He could have been talking about the Hammers, for after another desperately disappointing performance at Upton Park on Saturday, madame guillotine is getting ready to drop and yet there is still a chance of survival.
Even at this late hour, West Ham can still contrive some sort of pardon and survive another season in the Premier League, but it is looking more and more unlikely and in truth, they don’t really deserve it.
Avram Grant could well have been employed by the Liberal Democrats last week. After their dismal election showing they could have done with someone so blinkered that he saw Saturday’s 1-1 draw as a positive.
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“I think all the game we was on top of Blackburn,” he said in all seriousness. “I think maybe this is the story of our season. To take all of the games that we drew, we was on top of the other teams, created a lot of chances and this game was the same.”
Surely anyone who saw West Ham in the first half of this match would have seen a nervous, disjointed team lacking in creative ideas, being outpassed by a team who have only won one game since January, or is that just me?
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True, they created enough chances in the last 15 minutes to have won this match twice over, but that was when they had thrown four strikers up front and started, at long last, to pepper the Blackburn penalty box.
Was there really the passion and commitment before that? It is one thing to run around and make reckless tackles like Luis Boa Morte, it is another to win the ball and drive the team forward and have shots whenever you can, and there was simply not enough of that.
Too often before that they played around a patient Rovers defence, superbly marshalled by the brilliant Christopher Samba, and when they did try their hands at some sort of penetration, they invariably lost it.
“On the football side we have had the effort. I cannot say nothing against the players in most of the games, of course not all of the games,” said Grant the spin doctor.
“Today they gave a lot of effort, we was on the top of them, but it is not only that we don’t score, the other team scored from one chance, maybe we need to learn from Blackburn, because at the end of the day this is what football is about.”
It is and even with four strikers on the field, it was left to midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger to spare the West Ham blushes and earn them a point.
West Ham needed to start this game well, but, as has happened so often, they failed to come out of the traps.
Mame Biram Diouf teed up Morten Gamst Pedersen for a shot that flew inches wide after just two minutes and after Manuel da Costa’s header had been cleared off the line by Pedersen, Blackburn stormed up the other end to open the scoring with the simplest of goals.
Brett Emerton was allowed the freedom of Upton Park on the right wing and when he delivered a low cross, Jason Roberts got away from Da Costa to tap-in from point-blank range.
There was a collective groan from the West Ham fans and it could have been even worse had another Emerton cross not flown just past the head of the leaping Pedersen.
Thankfully, as the half wore on, the Hammers did carve out some chances to restore a little confidence.
Wayne Bridge got to the by-line and crossed for Demba Ba to head wide, while the striker then set up Jonathan Spector for a header that went straight at Paul Robinson.
The best chance of the half came on 44 minutes. For once, Ba outwrestled Samba and though he couldn’t get a shot in himself, he set up Freddie Sears for a low effort that Robinson did well to hold.
West Ham started the second half in a more positive frame of mind, but they were still only creating half chances, rather than clear-cut ones.
Spector shot inches wide through a crowd of players, while Thomas Hitzlsperger’s hammer stung Robinson’s hands as he palmed it away, while at the other end Blackburn also went close with Samba forcing a save and Steven N’Zonzi testing Green from long range.
Grant threw on Robbie Keane for the liability that is Boa Morte, before making it four strikers with the introduction of Freddie Piquionne, while the arrival of Jack Collison after 13 months out with injury was a delight to see.
As often happens when you have too many strikers on the field, players were unsure of their roles and what tactics they should employ and it took until the 77th minute before they really created a chance.
Then, Carlton Cole, now playing on the left wing it seemed, crossed for Ba to get ahead of Samba but direct his header just wide.
A minute later it was all square. Cole was there again and this time his pull back fell invitingly for Hitzlsperger to hit a first-time left-foot shot past the unsighted Robinson and into the far corner.
There were 12 minutes to go at that point, but few West Ham fans could have predicted the drama that was still to come.
As Rovers were pushed further and further back, Hitzlsperger’s free kick just evaded the leaping Cole, before the miss that could spell out the destiny of West Ham’s season.
Piquionne, who had arrived with a positive attitude for once, did superbly to beat his man at the by-line and when he crossed low it just needed the merest of touches from Keane to put the Hammers in front – he missed.
There were still chances. Ba’s shot was blocked by Samba, Cole’s shot was blocked, yes, by that man Samba, but it was that Keane miss that was the vital one, it was that Keane miss that was the sickener.
West Ham still have a chance, they still have hope, but seven games without a win and a trip to Wigan next week, surely it is too much to hope for?
As Shakespeare said so wisely: “The miserable have no other medicine – but only hope.”
West Ham: Green, Jacobsen (Piquionne 64), Bridge, Gabbidon, Da Costa, Boa Morte (Keane 55), Spector, Hitzlsperger, Sears (Collison 64), Ba, Cole.
Referee: Peter Walton 6.