West Ham lost their seventh game in nine matches on Saturday, going down 1-0 to a battling West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
Saido Berahino's 11th-minute goal was set against a backdrop of dissent by the travelling Hammers fans, who barracked Sam Allardyce throughout the game, unfurling a banner calling for his sacking and jeering his substitutions. Allardyce, however, was stoical after the game, saying he "understood the fans' frustration," and adding, "I expect the criticism that comes my way, as it's my job to get it right."
While still not mathematically certain of survival, talk of what could happen to the manager at season's end seems a little premature, but if, as expected, the Hammers have enough already to survive, the debate over the fate of Allardyce is going to be a fascinating talking point this summer.
For while criticism of the style and the pattern of play can be laid squarely at the door of the boss, there seems little he can do to alleviate the basic errors that occur on the field and, sadly, as so often this season, poor defensive decisions -- this time by centre-back Winston Reid -- have cost the team a vital point in what was a pretty tight game.
Stephane Sessegnon had a clear run through the centre of the West Ham defence, but the ball through to Morgan Amalfitano should have been cut out by Reid, who, instead of advancing towards the Frenchman, held back and was in no position to influence play as Amalfitano slid the ball across for Berahino to score.
Although the strike came early, it was still significantly against the run of play; the Hammers having an excellent opening spell with the Baggies thanking keeper Ben Foster for two stops against Andy Carroll, while Jonas Olsson was forced to punt away after good work by Matt Jarvis.
Carroll hit the crossbar in another towering performance in the air, but, as has been proved so often in the past, the striker needs some support. Unless something is done to alleviate the constant expectation that Kevin Nolan is going to score a hatful of goals just behind his old friend, then Allardyce is going to have to expect the abuse that will come his way.
The Hammers' real "threat" -- such as it was -- was the nervous reaction from the home crowd every time the visitors had the ball. With West Ham's poor record at the Hawthorns and a recent habit of conceding late equalisers, it's probably to be expected that the local supporters would be jittery, but the sense of relief at the final whistle that followed 10 minutes of frenzied cheering whenever West Brom got the ball out, even for a throw-in, only went to show what might have been had the Hammers been threatening in front of goal.
As it was, it was West Brom who might have made things easier for themselves, as Graham Dorrans hit a post and Adrian had to be alert in the West Ham goal on a number of occasions, particularly in the second half when Berahino again came close. In fact, the Burundi-born striker represented one of those footballing fables: the player out for three months, called on by the manger to produce something special and obliging to the extent that you wonder where Albion might be now had he been playing regularly since Christmas.
Ironically, now things can almost be reversed as Pepe Mel -- a boss under fire just a few matches ago -- could well see his team finish above Allardyce, whose pointless April contrasts spectacularly with his manager of the month award for February.
With tough games coming up away against Manchester City and at home to Tottenham, things will get very nervy for West Ham if things don't go the way expected elsewhere in the league. Hammers fans need to get behind the team in next week's vital match at the Boleyn, and if it might be hoped for easier opponents than Spurs, at least there shouldn't be any lack of vocal support against bitter rivals.