In the first half West Ham dominated proceedings, went 1-0 up and could and should have been two or three to the good by half-time. Avram Grant would have been thinking that his team were playing well, a Wembley appearance was approaching and his job might, just might, be safe.
Whatever he said at half-time will be a team talk that he will remember not to use again. West Ham were truly awful in the second half and Birmingham scored an equaliser and could and should have scored two or three more. Shortly after Birmingham equalised eleven minutes into the second period West Ham were reduced to ten men when Victor Obinna produced a moment of astonishing stupidity.
All of a sudden Avram Grant was looking at a team playing badly and showing why they are bottom of the league, a semi-final defeat and almost certainly, the loss of his job.
Then, totally against the run of play and totally out of keeping with the brilliance he has shown all season, Ben Foster hands West Ham the winner on a plate and everything in Avram Grant’s garden was once again rosy.
It was a roller coaster of a game for Avram Grant, just like his entire time at West Ham. He has quietly tried to get on with his very difficult job whilst board members of the club have openly and publicly discussed his future in the media. It has been an almost untenable position for Grant but he has acted with dignity and got on with the job in hand.
His future is still in doubt, yet he has taken the club to the threshold of a Wembley final and led his team to four wins in their last seven games. Apart from last week’s horrible 5-0 reverse at Newcastle, they have been on a pretty decent run. Although they are bottom of the table they are only one point from safety and are within five points of eleventh place.
After the game, an unusually relaxed Grant was inevitably questioned mainly about the speculation concerning his job.
“We’re one point from Wigan, Fulham and other teams but with them everything is quiet. Unfortunately, we have to fight these rumours. I don’t want to think about other things, I want to fight.”
Grant has a point. His side are within two points of Fulham, Birmingham, West Brom, Wolves, Aston Villa and Wigan, yet the only other manager about whom there has been speculation is Gerard Houllier and Aston Villa have made their support him very clear.
Grant even joked with the assembled press. This was a rarity as he is hardly famed for his jovial personality!
“Don’t worry about me. I will be fine in any case. I really, really appreciate that you are worried about me and you like me and you want me to be near you! I like you also, by the way. Why do you need to ask me about something that is not in my control?”
It does seem that the players are totally behind their manager and whilst he may have lost the confidence of the board, he certainly hasn’t lost the dressing room. Midfielder Mark Noble spoke for the players after the Birmingham game.
“So much has been said over the last couple of weeks and months, but you can see how the boys worked tonight. If they didn’t like the manager I don’t think you would have got that effort off them. That shows we’re behind him and we’re playing for the club and that’s what we need to do.”
Grant had the final word and spoke very positively about his team. He managed to throw in a comment about the fact that his substitute, Carlton Cole, scored the winner.
“I feel good. We won with ten players and the spirit was great. We have recently played every three days with a small squad and you saw spirit. They didn’t give up tonight and won the game because of the spirit. We played very well in the first half. We could have scored more but the last ball was not so good. In the second half, Birmingham scored from a corner, which is unusual for us. Then there was the red card but we did very well, despite the setback, and the substitution changed the game.”
Whether Avram Grant is the right man to be West Ham manager or not is not the point. The board thought he was a few months ago and they should stick by their decision. Whatever you may think of him he has acted with dignity and courtesy throughout a very difficult time.
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