AFTER all the turmoil they went through last season – on and off the pitch – West Ham seemed to be having a relatively straightforward ride this time round. No relegation threat, no UEFA Cup campaign, no strange and baffling transfers involving Argentinians.
OK, they changed chairman again in December, but even that went through with relatively little fanfare. But what’s that saying about nature abhorring a vacuum? (It’s “nature abhors a vacuum”.)
A football club not in a state of triumph or despair is not a proper football club. Somehow, West Ham managed to become embroiled in a crisis out of nothing.
Because the Hammers had suffered three successive 4-0 defeats, some newspaper journalists suggested that the team was mentally winding down. Manager Alan Curbishley had faced similar accusations about his teams during his final three or four years at Charlton, who always used to look a decent outside bet for the Champions League until February.
Amid suggestions that his job may be on the line simply because his team haven’t got very much to play for with two months of the season still to go, Curbishley took umbrage on Friday.
“Nothing surprises me or disturbs me,” said Curbishley, who has presumably never seen The Shining. (Actually, when your older brother has managed The Who, you probably will be pretty difficult to shock.) “But for us to be 10th in the league and subjected to such criticism is difficult.”
The problem is that there are a lot of Premier League teams with very ambitious owners pumping in lots of money. And not all of those teams are going to qualify for Europe next season.
I never thought I’d see the day when there would be an unseemly scramble for the Intertoto Cup. But it’s coming. Can’t wait for that.
In the meantime, things are looking a bit brighter for Curbishley now, thanks to a player who looks about 12.
Last night’s final game: West Ham 2 Blackburn 1
Commentator: Dan O’Hagan
You know you’re getting old when Premier League footballers start to look like children.
I wouldn’t fancy Freddie Sears’ chances of getting served in a bar without ID, and yet there he was yesterday afternoon, scoring a winner on his West Ham debut.
After Dean Ashton had equalised Roque Santa Cruz’s early goal for Blackburn, 18-year-old substitute Sears followed up to head in from close range after his initial shot had been saved by Brad Friedel.
“I don’t know about teenage kicks, but it’s certainly a teenage header,” said commentator Dan O’Hagan, suggesting that perhaps Sears will head the ball differently as he moves into his 20s.
Pride is clearly still a big motivator for Blackburn, judging by the almost-fight between David Dunn and Christopher Samba after Ashton’s goal. But they are no more likely to qualify for Europe than West Ham.
It now looks like a three-way battle between those two teams and Manchester City for ninth place. And even Richard Keys at his most animated would struggle to make that one sound exciting.
1. Derby: 10 (Gubba difference: +1)
2. Fulham: 7 (GD: +2)
3. Wigan: 7 (GD: +1)
4. Birmingham: 6 (GD: 0)
5. Reading: 5 (GD: +1)
6. West Ham: 5 (GD: 0)
7. Gubba: 4
8. Bolton: 4 (GD: +1)
9=. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0)
9=. Chelsea: 3 (GD: 0)
9=. Sunderland: 3 (GD: 0)
12=. Blackburn: 2 (GD: +1)
12=. Portsmouth: 2 (GD: +1)
14=. Millwall: 2 (GD: 0)
14=. Walsall: 2 (GD: 0)
16=. Everton: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Middlesbrough: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Newcastle: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Cardiff: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Wolves: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Bury: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Workington: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Huddersfield: 1 (GD: 0)
16=. Grimsby: 1 (GD: 0)
(NB. Where teams are level, positions are decided by Gubba Difference; the number of times a team is on Match of the Day last with Tony Gubba commentating.)