Premier League
West Ham United 0-1 Stoke City 

Saturday, 27th March 2010
by East Stand Martin

Probably one of the most depressing and infuriating weeks in West Ham’s recent history has just played itself out with the net result that the drop looks like an evens shot at best. A few short weeks ago it was 7-1.

After the debacle of last Tuesday?EUR(TM)s game when an unforced error by a promising but inexperienced centre back led to the whole team going missing on the pitch, a series of media stories were splashed which revealed that the part co-owners were running around like headless chickens.

No doubt in anybody?EUR(TM)s mind that the performance against Wolves had been a deeply disturbing charade. In many ways, it was a re-run of the game against Bolton where the struggling opposition just seemed to have more desire and more belief that the desperate-looking Hammers.

I?EUR(TM)m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter....

You didn?EUR(TM)t have to be a genius to work out for yourself that something looked deeply and fundamentally wrong, but the avowedly insomniac part owner Mr David Sullivan took it upon himself to let all emailable West Ham fans have the benefit of his thoughts on the game.

Apart from trotting out a partial list of Irons?EUR(TM) heroes (I can?EUR(TM)t believe that Geoff Pike was left out) and offering an apology for something which was not of his making - unless you believe that he should have appointed a new manager on taking up the reins in January - he target was obvious, it was Zola.

It was a repeat of a tactic that Mr Sullivan had tried just prior to the Birmingham game. The genius piece of reverse psychology was simple ?EUR" effectively tell the manager that he hasn?EUR(TM)t got a clue because this is bound to generate a positive response.

The problem was Mr Sullivan to all intents and purposes was trying to manage the team through the media. The lure of appearing as often as possible in the lens of a camera appears to be irresistible to the diminutive ex porn baron. Some go for alcohol or crack cocaine, Mr Suilivan appears to get his highs from being rubbed down by the daily newspapers.

As subtle as a sh*t in a swimming pool

To the rhino-skinned Sullivan, this crude and blundering intervention was bound to have a good effect, but the reaction of the manager last time after the pre-Birmingham tirade pointed to a somewhat different reaction.

As the manager said, ?EURoeWhen you use those words, you have to be very careful how you use them because sometimes they can be painful and cause more damage than you can imagine, and that could be the case."

So it proved, as Zola was once again bugged by the media when his focus should have been elsewhere. Unabashed, Sullivan delivered another kick in the Italian?EUR(TM)s vitals as he told the Guardian newspaper that he was 100% behind the manager as he was in no position to lure another ?EUR~ideal candidate?EUR(TM) to the position with only a few games left.

Then in another bizarre twist, Mr Gold the other side of the Jedward partnership running our club stepped in front of a camera at the training ground to declare that the club would not be sacking Zola even if the result was a loss against Stoke at home.

Opinions on all of this have been mixed, from those who feel that Sullivan was just iterating what the average fan felt on the terraces to those who felt that he was guilty of an act of ego-driven destabilisation on the eve of a huge game. Tactically speaking, it could be said that Sullivan was in a no-lose position, since if the team lost he could just blame the manager (again), if it was a victory, he could of course say that it was down to his ?EUR~wake up call?EUR(TM).

Anarchy in the East End

Against this background of anarchy, we arrived at today?EUR(TM)s game, hoping that the team could turn things around against an opponent which has shown mighty resilience this season. The manager did ring the changes with the introduction of Noble, Da Costa, Spector and Dyer for Kovac, Tomkins, Deprella and Diamanti, but ultimately the day ended in failure.

Whilst the first half showed a much improved performance at the back, with Da Costa looking particularly impressive, the team lacked the end result. Where promising positions were achieved, the ball always seemed to run away or just be overhit.

Certainly commitment was being shown by the likes of Mido and the ever-reliable Parker, but as the game wore on the confidence and the fitness began to drain away. Once again Dyer could not get through more than 45 minutes on the pitch despite some good stuff for a while, and Noble slowly disappeared out of the game along with Cole who looks like he is playing very gingerly at the moment, no doubt worried that he might get injured before the World Cup.

The difference in what was always going to be a tight game was that Stoke had better options off the bench than we did. Tuncay?EUR(TM)s and Fuller?EUR(TM)s introduction proved decisive, Tuncay provided far more creative spark than anything that Diamanti could offer when he finally joined the game; and Fuller?EUR(TM)s skilfull and strong run left our defence floundering. The ineffectual Ilan and then McCarthy were never going to have that impact when they eventually came on.

The takeover pledge - ??8 million for signings

By the way, while we?EUR(TM)re on those two, I am reminded about Mr Sullivan?EUR(TM)s pledge on takeover of transfer monies to bring in top class players in the January transfer window. The limited money that was spent clearly has made no difference to our fortunes; it was more a case of not having to sell. That may prove only to be temporary, though.

Like the Wolves game, the first goal was always going to be vital and we looked all at sea after it went in. In fact, there looked more chance of conceding a second than scoring an equaliser.

The time-wasting tactics of Stoke plus the constant recourse to Delap?EUR(TM)s Olympic style long throws added to the frustration and our last hope was snuffed out after the previously magic dead ball skills of Diamanti deserted him when the chance was offered just outside the D towards the end of the match.

Where do we go from here? It does seem that we are spiralling down into the void with no way of putting on the brakes. That 6th loss in a row equals a 40-odd year record. The last thing that the club needs at the worst point in the season.

The financial impact of sacking a manager with a long time left on ??1.9 million annual salary means that the part co-owners will not act against him, but you now wonder whether Zola himself, a man of real integrity will fall on his own sword. That may have been the objective of the vindictive and snidey letter that Mr Sullivan sent out earlier this week.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

It may save him some money ?EUR" the dearest thing to his heart ?EUR" but it may lead to an even worse situation for the club. The fact is that the behaviour of the part co-owners this week is bound to act as a massive deterrence to any decent manager contemplating joining our club for the final run-in.

Who in their right mind would want to work for Mr Sullivan or indeed get involved in what might be a very truncated 6 match reign at the Boleyn Ground?

It has all the signs of bringing in some out of work manager/pundit like El Tel or Hoddle, rather than an experienced and effective manager like Mark Hughes. After all, the rumours are rife that Sullivan has been pursuing Hughes for some time without any luck. My guess is that Hughes is far too clever to get himself stuck in an employment relationship with our co-Chairmen.

By the same token, if Harry Harris is to be believed, then Steve Clarke is not an option either, given his report that the No.2 faces disciplinary action for telling Sullivan to get lost when he tried to gatecrash a team meeting this week.

Plan B from Outer Space

So, having engineered a total breakdown in the relationship with the manager, it will be fascinating to see what Plan B is if Zola goes. Will we get a has-been (for the avoidance of doubt if this is Glenda Hoddle, I will not be attending another West Ham game this season) or will we get someone whose affection for the club is such that they are prepared to live with Messrs Gold and Sullivan? That is not a massive list of people and in many respects, I sincerely hope that Mr Alan Curbishley will return to try and repeat his marvellous feat of a couple of seasons back. The alternative is to try and entice Sir Trevor Brooking to give it a go.

Unfortunately he tried and failed last time (although with a record number of points for a relegated club) and the parallel attempt by Alan Shearer at Newcastle also ended in tears last season. But maybe that last example ultimately gives us some hope as the No. 2 Chris Hughton looks like he?EUR(TM)s got the Toon back at the first time of asking. Steve Clarke leading West Ham to the 2010/11 Championship title, anyone?

(Below Player Ratings by Staff Writer)

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Looked in control, came out when he needed to and punched effectively. Much improved. Little chance with the goal.

Julien Faubert
The best crosser in the squad barely crossed the halfway line before the final quarter-of-an-hour. Effective in defence.

Jonathan Spector
Excellent defensively and even provided a couple of cameos in more advanced quarters.

Matthew Upson
Back to his best, a complete contrast to recent outings. Almost entirely unbeaten in the air (even if he was mugged for the goal).

Manuel Da Costa
Clearly someone doesn't fancy him but when the Portugeezer has featured the performances have been solid enough. Today was no exception although he could have been tighter to his man for the goal.

Scott Parker
The usual workmanlike effort from the tenacious Parker although not much to show for it.

Mark Noble
Symptomatic of his season - some flashes of excellence but not enough.

Valon Behrami
Another disappointing display, and another who appears to have lost the ability to consistently pass accurately.

Kieron Dyer
Had a good first half although there was perhaps too much of a tendancy to come inside his man instead of using the width. Injured, again.

Offered little and even wasted a great chance when he somehow found himself behind the Stoke defence.

Carlton Cole
The spat with the fans last Tuesday didn't do him any favours, nor did another ineffective performance leading the attack today.


Alessandro Diamanti
(Replaced Dyer, 46 mins) Has come under heavy criticism of late for a lack of work rate, offered little to pooh-pooh those particular rumblings of discontent.

(Replaced Noble, 76 mins) Barely registered, but still the only Gullivan signing to score.

Benni McCarthy
(Replaced Mido, 84 mins) Had one very good chance that he just failed to convert. Still looking less than 100 per cent.

Peter Kurucz
Did not play.

Fabio Daprela
Did not play.

Danny Gabbidon
Did not play.

Radoslav Kovac
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, Manuel Da Costa, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Kieron Dyer, Mido, Carlton Cole.

Goals: None.

Booked: None booked           .

Sent Off: None sent off     .

Stoke City: Sorensen, Huth, Ab Faye, Collins, Higginbottom, Lawrence, Delap, Whelan, Etherington, Sidibe, Kitson .

Subs not used: Begovic, Pugh, Am Faye, Moult.

Goals: Fuller (69).

Booked: Whelan (59), Delap (90).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 34,564.

Man of the Match: Jonathan Spector.