Is there life left in West Ham’s survival bid?

With no disrespect to both champions-elect Manchester United and the FA Cup finalists, the most important match this weekend arguably takes place at the DW Stadium, where Wigan and West Ham collide in what effectively amounts to a relegation play off. Defeat for West Ham will see them demoted to the Championship, rubber-stamping a disastrous campaign in which the Hammers have spent the majority of the season hovering in and around the drop zone.

Having looked dead and buried even in the early stages of 2010/11, taking the dreaded ‘bottom at Christmas’ spot in the process, the new year seemed to reinvigorate the East-enders, as the much-maligned Avram Grant led his team to important victories over Wolves, Blackpool, Liverpool and Stoke – winning more times in that nine game spell than they had in their previous 20. Prudent business was done in the January transfer window, with the added firepower supplied by Robbie Keane and Demba Ba a big factor in the Hammer’s fightback. Thomas Hitzlsperger, signed in the summer but sidelined almost immediately, also returned around the same time, bringing with him some much needed midfield creativity, not to mention that rocket-powered left foot. Most important of all however, was Scott Parker, whose dynamic performances and leadership on and off the field en route to taking the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award dragged a team that was seemingly doomed back towards an unlikely salvation.

Then, with no one clear reason as to why, everything fell apart again. The home defeat to Manchester United in April, in which Grant’s men lead 2-0 before conceding four second half goals, stopped their momentum dead in its tracks, and West Ham have picked up just one point from the five games played since. The fine form of players like Ba and Hitzlsperger has dissipated, while key men like Parker and Mark Noble have been missing through injury. The behaviour of owners David Gold and David Sullivan has arguably not helped matters, with many feeling that Grant – like predecessor Gianfranco Zola – has been frequently undermined by the duo.

Last week’s announcement from Gold that the club’s England internationals could leave should West Ham be relegated was strangely timed, given that the Hammers are still very much in a dogfight and need all of their stars to be fit and focused on the present situation. Such statements led some to suggest that the two Davids are resigned to West Ham’s fate, and indeed relish the chance to clear the decks and begin the rebuilding process, cutting the wage bill and going instead with a younger squad and manager. However, a swift return is far from guaranteed should the Londoners plunge a division. While further down the totem pole, big clubs of the ilk of Norwich, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and Leeds all seem to have profited in bouncing back from relegation to League One from the Championship, getting back into the Premier League is an altogether different proposition. Of the last 12 teams to be relegated from the top flight, 75% are yet to make it back to the top table.

Parker is rumoured to be set to return for the Wigan clash, and the restoration of their talisman could yet spur West Ham to an incredible escape. Yet sometimes, a team has to go backwards to go forwards, and maybe there is, at this point, no other direction for West Ham to turn.

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