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May 1, 2014

Crunch time for Sam?

As ever at West Ham, there is never a drama to be considered if a crisis can be substituted instead.

Mathematically, it's true that the Hammers need to get a point or three in their final two games to ensure Premiership survival. But there's an almost overwhelming chance that -- even were the Hammers to lose to Tottenham and Manchester City -- inclusion in next season's Premier League fixture list will almost certainly be attained due to the shortcomings of other teams around them.

- Report: Allardyce dismisses call for sack

Nevertheless, these two games are more than relatively meaningless end of season fixtures. Rather the immediate future of the club -- for good or ill -- could be decided by what happens at home to deadly rivals Spurs in Saturday's early kick-off or in the last match most against City; one ironically that most people will be looking at for an entirely different reason!

For if the Hammers were to win those last two games -- unlikely as it may seem considering their current malaise -- manager Sam Allardyce will be looking at a healthy 43 points, a near mid-table finish and a League cup semi-final from earlier in the campaign. But it won't have made it a good season -- injuries, some dull football and some intermittently poor results make that a certainty -- and it's not the type of finish that is likely to make the two Davids -- Gold and Sullivan -- think of replacing the manager either; it being unlikely that many bosses would have dragged the team to much greater heights given the circumstances.

Two defeats, though, will mean Allardyce has presided over a record number of home upsets in a Premiership season, and what could ultimately be a paltry two wins in the final eleven matches, it might mean the board will question whether they should entrust another budget in the penultimate season at the Boleyn to a manager under fire from a large percentage of supporters.

It seems slightly ludicrous that two relatively unimportant games (admittedly only from West Ham's perspective) should decide the future of a manager, but that's the way of things in football nowadays. The main problem though is that if there is short shrift somewhere, then Big Sam probably has hold of it. There is little doubt the club's owners are twitchy about the amount of fan backlash currently being thrown their way, and talks of protests at Saturday's game can only make things worse. In an odd twist though, if the Hammers were to reverse current form, get the fans onside and get a hat-trick of wins over their north London rivals then attitudes could change considerably.

The problem with Allardyce's tenure at Upton Park this season is that he's fallen -- inconveniently for the board -- between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If Allardyce is to point to his team's defensive prowess then he needs to cut out the silly errors that have caused the Hammers to drop so many points in April; virtually every match in the last month has produced a poor decision that has cost the team dearly. On the other hand, if Allardyce wants to point to a greater attacking potency, then he needs to be able to show more than the paltry strike rate from the players he has bought.

Even allowing some leeway for injury-hit Andy Carroll, the return from the disappointing Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis -- the pair cost in excess of an estimated 16 million pounds, let's not forget -- is nothing short of appalling. Throw in the mess of the undisclosed fee for Modibo Maiga -- even Harry Redknapp has had to give up on the player! -- and that's a poor return. With most of this season’s best performances coming from players who were already at the club when Allardyce arrived, the manager really has nothing to fall back on.

The only bright spot in a disappointing season has been Ravel Morrison and -- though we don't know the real reason why Allardyce let the player go out on loan to QPR -- the decision and the team's subsequent poor form at the end of the season, has left Allardyce looking more than vulnerable.

For many reasons, Saturday's game against Tottenham could be even more volatile than ever