Sid Lambert on the aftermath of another woeful weekend
He’s in. He’s out. Brighton win a rout.
After the unfamiliar joy of a 4-0 win over Forest seven days earlier, normal service was resumed in this shambles of a season for West Ham United. Another trip to Brighton – where we typically have as much success as Charles Bronson in front of a jury of his peers – brought another feeble defeat. And another week of worry about our Premier League future.
So where are we? Technically, we’re 16th in the table, hovering a single point above the drop zone. In reality, we’re exactly where we were back in November before the World Cup break: wondering whether Mr Moyes can fix what looks less like a bug and more like a chronic illness that needs urgent treatment.
I’ve seen these symptoms before. This is my 38th season supporting this football club. And for the majority of them, we’ve been somewhere between crap and below average. But that’s ok. Once I stopped getting starry-eyed at my Panini sticker album – and realised that George Parris wasn’t going to give Michael Platini sleepless nights at the Ballon D’Or – I accepted my fate. There were many years when a decent cup run, a win over Spurs and 15th position was the height of my expectations.
But this year was meant to be different. A new style. A host of new international arrivals. And a new journey for the club, where we could look up and ahead, instead of peering nervously over our shoulder.
Well, as we sit here entering the second week of March, the destination looks remarkably familiar.
We’re heading straight down the khazi… fast.
Where does Saturday’s surrender at Brighton rank in terms of our worst-ever performances? There’s no definitive answer. It depends on your age and tenure in Claret & Blue. I’ll never forget the Valentine’s Day Massacre at Oldham in 1990. Gary Strodder playing like his boots were made of concrete, Stewart Robson in slo-motion, and poor Liam Brady looking like he wanted to retire on the spot. We lost 6-0. It could have been many, many more.
Fast forward 17 years and there was the New Year’s mauling at the Madejski. Another six goals conceded, another away day where we managed to defy footballing logic. It takes a special team to make Reading look like Real Madrid. Yet, somehow, we did it.
In a way, this past weekend felt worse. 150 million quid down the shitter. Retreating to our 18-yard box and letting Brighton gleely pass the ball around us like they were prime Barcelona.
What are we doing? And where are we going next?
The problem is that we’ve left ourselves with very little options. The best managers don’t accept calls in mid-March for what is essentially a 10-week contract. Which means you’re left with the mercenaries, the relegation specialists, or somebody with a point to prove.
The most likely option seems Rafa Benitez, whose reputation as one of the most tactically-astute coaches of his generation has nosedived in recent years. In fairness, for a man with his Red roots on Merseyside taking the job at Everton was a bit like King Herod applying to be CEO of Mothercare. The Spaniard’s still worshipped on Tyneside for his work at Newcastle. And his legacy at Liverpool will forever be intact. But that feels like a long time ago.
Benitez’s appearance at the Etihad on Saturday for BT Sport was no fluke. That was his agent putting him firmly in the shop window for any panicking Premier League supremos looking for a last-minute saviour. Benitez spoke insightfully and confidently, his analysis of the game putting his fellow pundits to shame. Though it did beg the question of whether a man with his depth of knowledge is the right voice you need in a relegation scrap. Are you better bringing in a cautious tactician? Or a charisma bomb to shock the squad into life?
That remains a moot point. It seems the board’s loyalty to Mr Moyes remains intact. At least for now.
Will we be any nearer the answer after Aston Villa?
There are three weeks between that game and our next Premier League fixture at home to Southampton on 2nd April. That’s three weeks for either a short-term saviour to come in and work a miracle, or for our current manager to make the necessary changes to divert disaster.
After Aston Villa, we have 12 games and ten weeks to save our season. Decision time is fast-approaching.