David Sullivan and David Gold will prepare for their first return to Birmingham City with Avram Grant testing their self-proclaimed reluctance to sack managers.
Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal leaves West Ham stuck to the bottom of the Barclays Premier League with only six points and cracks already appearing in Grant’s camp.
At the Emirates, his coaching staff Paul Groves and David Coles, who came with him from Portsmouth, lost patience on the touchline, with Coles snapping back at the manager as he changed his mind about substitutions.
Some senior players also were unhappy that he was slow to make changes, waiting until 17 minutes from time to bring on Carlton Cole, when the Hammers were desperate for a striker to hold up the ball and relieve the pressure on Rob Green’s goal.
Then he performed a major reshuffle with only four minutes left, replacing left-winger Victor Obinna with right-sided Julien Faubert, who was promptly skinned by Gael Clichy for Alex Song’s late winner.
‘We wanted to change something at the last moment, to do something better, to bring on fresher players,’ said Grant. ‘First we wanted to take off another player, then we changed it.’
Grant’s substitutions were credited with turning last week’s Carling Cup tie against Stoke but this time, he dithered on the touchline and things swung against him. Exasperated comments and arms were flung in his general direction as the players came off at the end.
‘I am not happy about the situation but most importantly we have a lot of time to recover from this,’ said Grant, although for him personally, time may be running out.
Support is gathering among supporters for the return of Alan Pardew, who led West Ham to the FA Cup in 2006 and came within seconds of winning the trophy only to be ousted by the Icelandic regime which took control the following season.
Pardew is also being eyed by Crystal Palace, a club he served well as a player. Given the choice he would prefer to manage his former club at the foot of the Premier League rather than his former club at the foot of the Championship, but Palace’s interest puts time pressure on the West Ham board if they are to consider replacing Grant with Pardew.
Despite unseating Gianfranco Zola within five months of taking over at Upton Park, Sullivan and Gold like to boast of their proud record of backing managers.
When Grant arrived in the summer, Sullivan went on the record to say the manager would not be judged for ‘two or three’ years because of the parlous state of the club and the time it would take to solve the problems with limited resources.
This philosophy did not change when the Hammers lost their first four games of the campaign, followed by a draw against Stoke and a rot-stopping win at home to Tottenham.
‘No manager can survive nine defeats in a row,’ said Sullivan after beating Spurs in September, but since then his team have collected just two more points from four Premier League games, despite the superb form of Scott Parker and Mark Noble in midfield.
Goalkeeper Green has returned to good form and Manuel da Costa has been impressive in defence and still the Hammers do not win. No-one inside the club had predicted such an awful start and heroic defeats are not much good at the moment.
For the first time inside the club, questions are being asked about Grant’s demeanour and his ability to inspire. He is suddenly exposed to managing in the Premier League without the ready excuses on hand at Chelsea and Portsmouth.
At West Ham, he will be judged and he will be judged soon if he cannot stop the slide, starting at Birmingham on Saturday.
Relegation would be disastrous for a club carrying debts close to £100million and fat contracts, most of them without automatic pay-cut clauses if they go down. Maybe not quite the ‘Armageddon’ foretold by Sullivan when the Hammers flirted with the drop last season, but not be far off.
None of which represents a triumphant return to St Andrews for the Davids who sold the Blues and bought the Hammers. None of which sits comfortably with their style for giving managers a chance.