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Jan 15, 2011

Grant on the brink, O'Neill waits in wings

West Ham boss Avram Grant will face the sack should his side suffer an embarrassing defeat against Arsenal on Saturday, with the Hammers lining up former Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill as the Israeli's replacement.

Avram Grant talks to ESPN

• West Ham keen on O'Neill
• Preview: West Ham v Arsenal
• West Ham blog: Olympic Stadium debate

ESPNsoccernet understands that no final decision on Grant's future has been taken ahead of today's game with Arsenal, though a defeat would likely see the end of his reign at the Boleyn Ground.

Despite leading his side to a Carling Cup semi-final first leg win on Wednesday, Grant's Upton Park tenure is hanging by a thread as the club's hierarchy wait for the slip up that would represent the end of the line.

The speculation that Grant will leave sooner rather than later has been mounting and should a weakened Hammers side be convicningly put to the sword by Arsenal at Upton Park, Grant will likely be forced out immediately.

Should West Ham defeat the Gunners, though, Grant would likely be given another stay of execution, though the Hammers will continue to work on persuading O'Neill to return to football management.

Odds on the former Celtic and Leicester boss taking the reins at Upton Park have shortened dramatically over the last 48 hours, and it is believed that he is ready to answer West Ham's SOS call.

But reports that Grant's sacking is a formality and that he will be axed no matter what the result of Saturday's game are wide of the mark.

An ESPNsoccernet source at the club said: "No, it is wrong to assume Grant's last game is against Arsenal, and he will go irrespective of the result.

"Of course if the team suffer another hammering like they did at Newcastle, then perhaps he will go, and the board will think, 'enough is enough'.

"But not irrespective of the result. If Grant can keep going and save the club from relegation, then fair enough, but if not then something will have to be done."

However, ESPNsoccernet sources have confirmed that O'Neill is far and away the leading candidate to replace Grant. It was significant, that after Wednesday's board meeting, the club declined to make any comment about Grant's position - not even the usual dreaded 'vote of confidence'.

While the cup has been a distraction, the Hammers board feared that the club were being cut adrift again at the foot of the Premier League. But Grant survives to take charge of the team against Arsenal.

The board, led by owners David Sullivan and David Gold, have a shortlist of candidates that includes Sam Allardyce, Martin Jol and Chris Houghton, but O'Neill is the overwhelming favourite.

O'Neill had been sounded out about the possibility of becoming West Ham manager before, but had wanted a minimum of a £10 million transfer budget, at a time when the new owners had taken over a club with £110 million of debt.

That debt has been worked out relentlessly and is currently down to £80 million, with Gold and Sullivan willing to invest heavily in new players in the January transfer window.

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