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Sunday, Oct. 29, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

West Ham manager Pardew finds himself on hot seat as losing streak hits eight


LONDON -- If West Ham players could pass the ball as well as they are passing the buck, the team would not be staring relegation and crisis in the face after eight consecutive defeats, their worst run in 74 years.

Christopher Davies

The demise of West Ham has been the surprise story of the Premiership this season.

After winning promotion in 2005 finishing a credible ninth, and reaching the F.A. Cup final last May where they were beaten by Liverpool, the Hammers were expected to build on that success this time around.

Instead, they are being hammered on and off the field, the team and club in disarray.

Tuesday's League Cup defeat by League One side Chesterfield left manager Alan Pardew clinging to his job by his fingernails, the shadow of former Charlton manager and ex-West Ham player Alan Curbishley looming large over Upton Park.

"It's not about being fearful of my job," said Pardew who must be. "But every manager has to live and die by results. I'm no exception to that and I don't think I'm immune from anything."

Everything seemed to be going well until Aug. 31, the last day of the transfer window, when West Ham pulled off "a major coup" by signing Argentine duo Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez from Brazilian club Corinthians.

The following day West Ham admitted to having "exploratory talks" with businessman Kia Joorabchian, who engineered the transfer of the Argentines, over a possible takeover.

Three weeks later, Israeli businessman Eli Papoushado confirmed he would be interested in investing with Joorabchian in "football projects."

As West Ham's losing run gathers momentum, Pardew conceded takeover talks may be having a detrimental effect on the team.

After the UEFA Cup knockout by Palermo, Argentine coach Alfio Basile advised Mascherano and Tevez to leave the club "as soon as possible."

Just the boost West Ham needed as it slumped from one defeat to another.

In the last week the Hammers have been beaten 1-0 at Tottenham and 2-1 at Chesterfield.

The arrival of Mascherano and Tevez has had a negative rather than positive effect on West Ham, with whispers another Premiership club was behind the move to see how they performed in English football.

Having two highly paid World Cup stars walk into a dressing room and be part of a side on the slippery slope to relegation hardly does wonders for team spirit.

The ownership of the club is in doubt -- a convenient get-out for players who were playing well last season but have lost form.

Crucially, too many players, it seems, have almost thrown in the towel as West Ham has become serial losers.

The supporters have, so far, been restrained, but Pardew, who signed a new five-year contract last November, knows no fans are going to put up with continual failure.

"I think our fans will be angry and disappointed with this result, like we are, of course," said Pardew after the Chesterfield defeat.

"The fans are maybe staying patient because of our success last year. They've given us the benefit of the doubt, but at some point you have to turn it around and we now have to do that.

"But they will be right behind us at the start on Sunday (against Blackburn) and we need to respond to that. We need our stadium to give us a lift, because if we don't respond to that they will turn on us and then it's a very, very difficult position we're going to find ourselves in. It's a big, big game on Sunday."

Mascherano and Tevez were not even among the substitutes at Chesterfield where Marlon Harewood's goal, which brought ironic cheers from the traveling supporters, was the club's first in 672 minutes.

It was not enough, and Chesterfield did what all opponents do these days and beat West Ham.

"Players have to look at themselves and ask if their displays are good enough for West Ham United," Pardew said.

We will have some idea of the names of the guilty parties when Pardew announces his lineup for the match against Blackburn.

IF MARK Clattenburg had followed the letter of the law during Chelsea's 2-1 win over Portsmouth, Jose Mourinho would have been sent to the stands by the referee.

The Chelsea manager left his seat in the dugout to show some nifty footwork in kicking the ball back. The problem was, the ball had not completely crossed the perimeter line and was still officially in play.

Mourinho shrugged, smiled and laughed it off as a human error, which it no doubt was. Mistake or not, it was still an offense that could and should have seen the Portuguese dismissed from the technical area.

Did Mourinho apologize or thank Clattenburg for showing what many would say was common sense?

No.

Instead, Mourinho berated Clattenburg for cautioning Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack for running to the crowd to celebrate their goals.

By the letter of the law Clattenburg was correct in showing both players the yellow card.

Some will say it is sanitizing football . . . being a killjoy for punishing a spontaneous act of celebrating.

When Sheva ran to the Chelsea fans he was joined by Didier Drogba and, in the mutual love-in with jubilant Blues supporters, one spectator squirted what appeared to be a soft drink over the Ivorian's face and head.

It could have been hot coffee -- or even worse.

Which is why the police told the Football Association that players should not touch members of the crowd or climb fences after scoring.

Apart from what happened -- or rather, what could have happened -- to Drogba, supporters who climb over five or six rows of seats to join in the celebrations in the front row are putting themselves and others at risk.

Referees are not being spoilsports by booking players who hug supporters after scoring.

And how brainless was Ballack to follow Sheva's lead, three minutes after seeing the Ukraine striker cautioned, for running to the crowd and accepting their celebratory cuddles?

In his usual sour manner Mourinho pointed out the same referee did not show Robin van Persie the yellow card for the same thing after scoring for Arsenal at Charlton earlier this season.

The Dutchman did not, in fact, have any contact with fans.

He ran up a few steps that lead to a gate at the front of the stand and stood there, arms raised for a few seconds, milking the applause of the Gunners' traveling support.

Van Persie was already on a yellow card but having initially jumped over an advertising hoarding -- the guideline for referees to caution a player -- he should have been sent off for a second bookable offense.

Would the punishment have fit the crime?

No.

Referees say the two yellow cards should add up to a red, so Clattenburg showed what most would concede was common sense and and did not dismiss van Persie.

True, the laws should be applied consistently and those who break them punished accordingly.

Referees cannot win, though. When they are strict, we say they should be sensible.

When they are sensible we say "well, so-and-so was booked for doing that three weeks ago . . . "

But in Mourinho's mind it is OK for a referee to apply the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law and show common sense when it applies to him.

Not opponents, though.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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