It looks as if Avram's card is marked and that he will be out of the door come the end of the season, but is he really as useless as his critics would have us believe? Let's look at a few facts related to this season.
Now, the big issue is clearly our league position. We are second from bottom again after West Brom's point at Stoke, and that is not good enough, but are things as bad as they seem?
To begin, why are we where we are in the table? Results wise, it boils down to a handful of games, and we didn't even play in some of them! Let's dispense with some freak results for starters. Take off Blackpool's two wins over Liverpool, and they would be on 26 points, 2 points behind us. Then there is West Brom's incredible victory at Arsenal. That was a crazy, crazy result in a crazy, crazy season! I won't go on about the Wolves victories because I think they are a better team than they are given credit for. The three teams who SHOULD go down this season are West Brom, Blackpool and Wigan.
But you make your own luck and we still have to account for a miserable total of 28 points thus far. That's easily done because it boils down to the draw against Blackpool at Upton Park, the 3 points lost at home to Newcastle and the home draw against West Brom. Chalk up those 7 points and we would be sitting relatively comfortably on 35 points, with Blackpool on 31 points and West Brom on 28. I certainly would not be sweating on relegation with just 5 points needed to guarantee safety.
Of course, there is also that appalling Clattenbung decision at Wolves which cost us 2 points by striking off Piquionne's perfectly legitimate goal with the last kick of the game. I know these sorts of things are meant to even themselves out over a season but how many teams lose a perfectly good goal scored with literally the last kick of the game against a major rival? Just keeping those two points would have changed the picture dramatically. We would be on 30 points now, and out of the bottom three. People are blaming Grant; Clattenbung would be a more worthy target for ire!
But the real killers for our season were utterly beyond Avram's control. Firstly, the computer gave us a truly nightmare start. As soon as that fixture list came out, we knew it spelt trouble. Villa away, Bolton at home, Man Utd away and Chelsea at home? We were always going to be playing catch up after that start! And so it has proved. Recovering for four straight defeats at the start of the season has proved a nightmare.
And, of course, as the return of Hitz has shown, the entire balance of Avram's team was destroyed by Der Hammer's injury playing for Germany before the season even started. Again, I accept all teams suffer injuries but we have had more than our fair share. Apart from Hitz, and predictably Dyer, there have been the long term injuries to Collison and Hines. Just when Obinna was finding form, he was injured; and of course Keane joined and broke down. We've lost Upson for key games, da Costa for a sizeable chunk of the season, Jacobsen for important games, Noble for two spells, Behrami for most of the season for which he was available, Ilunga (some might say luckily)...and Cole has had to be nursed through injuries. Even Green has missed games.
Does anybody really believe we would be in the bottom three now had Hitzlspurger been available for the first half of the season? How, exactly is that Grant's fault?
Now, let's turn to recent form. Since Christmas, we have lost just 4 games in all competitions. We have won 8 games and drawn 3 times. If we ignore the Cup games, that record still reads 4 wins, 3 defeats and 3 draws. That is 15 points from 10 games or 1.5 points per match. Average that over a season and you have 57 points! That is Avram's team's current form, and he took over a side that was in complete disarray after Zola's chaotic reign.
Now, let's just include the Cup games in Avram's record. We have now won 14 games so far this season in 37 competitive fixtures. That is a win percentage of 38%. Zola's win percentage was below 30% and Avram's betters Curbishley's. The goal return of 53 also represents good entertainment value when set alongside the goals per game return of his two predecessors.
Tell me, how many times have we looked awful this season? At home to Arsenal and away to Newcastle Villa and Liverpool, but West Ham always have those sort of nighmare results over the course of a season. When we lost at home to Chelsea and Bolton, we played pretty well. Until Spector gave away a stupid penalty, we were competing at Old Trafford. We were preciously close to pulling off a draw at Arsenal. In truth, we have been "in with a chance" in most games this season and at times have played some scintillating forward. We played Spurs off the park and hammered Liverpool on Sunday and Man Utd in the Cup. We were unlucky not to win at Everton too, with another ludicrous refereeing decision robbing us of the victory.
When Grant arrived, we were in a mess. We only survived last season because there were three crap teams in the division. Duxbury, Nani, Zola and Clarke had inherited a reasonable squad and turned us into a joke, with no full backs, no wide midfielders and no team shape whatsoever. Grant identified the weaknesses and sourced a utility defender (Ben Haim), two wingers (Barerra & Obinna) a striker (Piquionne), a right back (Jacobsen) and a goal scoring midfielder (Hitz), and did so on a shoestring. Each of those signings made perfect sense, and whilst Barerra and Reid have disappointed so far, they are young and may yet come good. Had Hitz remained fit, I reckon we would be in the top half of the table now.
So, when you look at the facts, Avram's record isn't that bad. Based on current form, we are a top half team. The question is, can we maintain that record until the end of the season? If we do, we finish on 43 points, and not even West Ham can go down with that points total surely?
So, our season now comes down to some key, key games: at home to Stoke, Blackburn and Sunderland, and away to Wigan. If we win those, we have 40 points, 5 more than we ended up with last season. A point at home to Villa and away to Bolton would take us to 42 points. And wouldn't it be special to win at White Hart Lane?
I'm certainly not getting cocky; it could all go tits up when we play Stoke. But that Liverpool result was special and may yet carry the same importance as our victory away to Blackburn under Turds. We stayed up that year because we were lucky - remember that winner at Blackburn? - but the luck has been against us so far this season. Remember, Zola's team only had to beat ten men when we played away to Sunderland and Arsenal, and at home to Villa, Bolton and Fulham. They only managed to win one of those games! The table doesn't show it, but the progress has been steady. IF we survive, we could kick on next season!
Avram may yet blow bubbles!