ONE cynic at half-time in the Britannia Stadium press room wondered aloud if it would be a “particularly good result” if West Ham won the game when Avram Grant wasn’t there (the Israeli coach missed the match because of his observance of Yom Kippur).
The inference – and it’s not the exclusive preserve of media hacks: many Hammers’ fans feel the same way – is that Grant is the wrong man for the job. Yet the majority of travelling fans seemed happy when their team held off a Stoke comeback to take their first Premier League point. It may still be West Ham’s worst start to a season but the trip to the Stoke yielded at least a few hopeful signs.
Yes, Robert Green remains a liability. Before either team had scored, the former England goalkeeper hopelessly fumbled a Jermaine Pennant free kick and Robert Huth should have scored instead of hitting the post.
I was working on Saturday alongside another former international keeper, Tim Flowers, who confirmed my thinking that Green badly needed a solid start to the campaign instead of committing further high-profile mistakes such as his gifted goal against Chelsea.
Ideally, you’d want to leave him out. Unfortunately for Grant, there are only rookies available in reserve.
And Matthew Upson is another who looks like he should be spared the front line. No doubt he’s disheartened by Fabio Capello but, like Green, Upson looks like an error waiting to happen.
Thanks heavens, then, for Scott Parker. As someone who hasn’t been averse to transfers in the past, I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t leave Upton Park last month. There were certainly clubs like Spurs that were interested. Perhaps West Ham improved his contract in a manner that couldn’t be refused. Perhaps the player is showing the sort of loyalty so loved by the club’s supporters.
Any way you look at it, Parker is a classy midfield player, cultured in his use of the ball and unhurried in his distribution. Parker would easily fit into sides far better than West Ham.
But, as I say, Saturday offered hope. Ben Haim was another religious absentee but I thought the Portuguese Da Costa looked a better centre-back anyway. Jacobsen and Gabbidon – I know it’s not the Welshman’s preferred position – were solid in full back roles. And Mark Noble and Valon Behrami offered great support to Parker in midfield.
Further forward, Carlton Cole will surely find a taker in January but Piquionne and Obinna looked as if they might be more-than-adequate replacements in the immediate future. Remember, too, there are great youngsters such as Jack Collison and Freddie Sears soon to return from injury.
I don’t see cause to panic for West Ham. I am not a particular fan of their owners, the two Davids, Sullivan and Gold, but both are experienced in leading teams threatened by relegation and neither has a reputation for sacking managers. Though some of us might beg to differ, it seems Avram Grant will be given time. Hopefully, for a fine club, that faith will be rewarded.
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