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Sep 11, 2010

Grant living on borrowed time

Avram Grant's turbulent reign as West Ham manager may be brought to a swift conclusion in the coming days, with the folly of the bizarre appointment being exposed in alarmingly speedy fashion.

• Report: West Ham 1-3 Chelsea
• Premier League: Blues press on
• Jolly: Mancini's Blue Moon stalling
• Premier League gallery

Rumours were sweeping the press room that Grant is on course to claim an unwanted record for the shortest managerial reign in Premier League history, with this fourth league defeat tipped to be his last as West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan prepare to move quickly to correct the error of their ways.

Upton Park officials may deny Grant is a manager on the brink of the sack, but there is enough smoke around this story to suggest the smouldering inferno will eventually explode as this latest setback cemented West Ham's worst start to a season in 33 years.

Upcoming games against Sunderland and Stoke offer the potential for West Ham to break their points duck, yet the alternative view would argue that Gold and Sullivan picked the wrong man to lead their West Ham revolution. Making a quick change may be the best way to avert a disaster.

To be fair, the committed performance Grant's men produced against Chelsea suggested the players have not given up on their under-fire boss, but the result of this game was never in doubt once Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou gave the Champions a 2-0 lead inside 18 minutes. The second of those goals was tragic for Grant and his troops as 'keeper Robert Green's fumble was compounded when Matthew Upson's clearance bounced off Kalou's heel and into the back of the net.

It was comical stuff, but it confirmed that luck had deserted Grant and his men. Now the concern must be that the manager charged with lifting a group of rapidly frustrated players lacks the drive and passion you associate with this great club.

Having attending numerous press briefings with Grant, the shy and unconvincing demeanour always offered by this 55-year-old Israeli makes it impossible to imagine him firing up a dressing room full of millionaire footballers.

A talent-laden Chelsea side may have done well under his command, but most coaches would have succeeded with a squad loaded with so much quality. As for his efforts at Portsmouth last season, they were commendable in what was a no-win situation and now he looks destined to fail in what was always likely to be his biggest test.

News that he is set to miss next weekend's game at Stoke - whether he is still in the West Ham hot-seat or not - as he prepares to observe the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur confirms his commitment to his religion runs deep and he has always placed that devotion above sporting ambitions.

When Grant achieved the greatest result in his managerial career as his Chelsea side beat Liverpool in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, he addressed the press and made reference to the fact that it was Holocaust Day.

So it's fair to say Grant is not a conventional manager in an era of glaring media exposure and even though it's harsh to offer a conclusive judgement on his hopes of reviving West Ham after a defeat against the best side in the Premier League, you couldn't help but feel a touch of sympathy for him as he sat before a media pack who smelt blood.

"The performance was excellent and the reaction we had after we went 1-0 down was very encouraging," said a surprisingly upbeat Grant. "We created more chances than Chelsea and didn't manage to take them, which proved costly against an opponent with so much quality.

"If we continue to play like this, we will be fine, but we need to start making more of the chances. We need to be strong and show a good reaction to this defeat and I have no concern about my future here. I have signed a four-year contract and share the vision the owners have for West Ham.

"There is plenty of time for us to take points. It is not as if we are ten games from the end of the season and the gap between the sides in the middle of the table and ourselves is not so big. This was a positive performance for us."

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti looked a vision of composed confidence as he reflected on another comfortable victory. "The performance was not as good as we would have wanted," stated the Italian. "With the two-goal advantage early, we did not need to take any risks, but I was disappointed that we did not counter attack as well as we would have liked in the second half."

The impressive Essien scored with his second powerful header after 83 minutes to confirm the champions' triumph, with West Ham's consolation from Scott Parker moments later a classy effort from the ex-Chelsea man. Petr Cech's clearance fell into the path of the Hammers captain, though he still needed to execute a perfectly lobbed finish to raise a roar from fans who were silenced for long periods.

The West Ham owners must have noted the dampened atmosphere around Upton Park for this local derby and that may help them to decide whether they should make a swift managerial change. This is one venue where you can usually guarantee a raucous atmosphere, but you could hear the players shouting to each other during in the second half, with this game drifting away from the home side.

Whether another change of manager could end the gloomy mood at West Ham is an issue Messrs Gold and Sullivan will have to consider in the coming days.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Michael Essien - This powerhouse performer plugged the gap left by the injured Frank Lampard. He was a colossus in the midfield for Chelsea.

UNDERGROUND MAYHEM: Congratulations to London Transport for their move to close Upton Park station for engineering works ahead of a fixture that is always a high profile security risk. Throwing Chelsea and West Ham fans together for a long walk to a tube station was both dangerous and foolish.

GREEN FINGERS: The confidence of West Ham's under-fire keeper must have been shaken by his World Cup nightmare in the summer and his error in this game was equally costly. Fortune also deserted him when he needed it most.

MISS OF THE SEASON: Frederic Piquionne was guilty of a horrible miss as he headed onto the crossbar with the goal at his mercy a matter of inches from the line in the final minutes. It was a shocker.

GRANT VERDICT: It's not entirely his fault, but the West Ham manager is a hard man to warm to. In an era when media personality is just as important as tactical acumen for Premier League managers, the omens are not good for Avram Grant.

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