Sun, May 13, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Hammers bank on `great escape'

A POINT REQUIRED West Ham United's traumatic season can be put to bed tomorrow at Old Trrafford, a ground where they have won just one league game in the last 21 years

AFP , MANCHESTER, England

Alan Curbishley stands on the verge on completing an unlikely escape act just five months after taking over at West Ham United with the club in the bottom three and on a dangerous downward spiral.

The Hammers manager needs a point at Manchester United tomorrow for the club to secure another season in the Premiership, but can still go down if they lose at Old Trafford and Wigan win at relegation rivals Sheffield United.

Following the highs of last season's ninth place and an FA Cup final appearance, West Ham have endured a wretched season.

The injury to striker Dean Ashton proved pivotal in their season, while the signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano initially unbalanced the team.

Personal problems for goalkeeper Roy Carroll, defender Anton Ferdinand and winger Matthew Etherington, as well as captain Nigel Reo-Coker's anger at not being informed of an inquiry for his services from Arsenal, all contributed to the sacking of Alan Pardew in December.

The takeover by Kia Joorabchian that did not go ahead, and the one by Eggert Magnusson that did, also brought uncertainty to Upton Park.

Even so, if bad luck punctuated the majority of the season, the club undoubtedly felt fortunate to avoid a points penalty following their failure to produce key documents relating to the transfers of Tevez and Mascherano through a third party.

And so a traumatic season can be put to bed tomorrow at a ground where they have won just once in the league in 21 years, and where Curbishley took just one point from eight visits during his 15-year spell as manager of Charlton Athletic.

A run of six wins from their last eight games, inspired by Tevez, has given Curbishley's side a fighting chance of avoiding relegation.

If they do, the ?5.5 million fine imposed by the Premier League after the Tevez-Mascherano affair will easily be covered by the ?35 million they will receive even if they finish bottom of the Premiership next season under the new television rights deal.

"We've been saying for the last five or six weeks that we needed to win the majority of our games," said Curbishley, whose first game as West Ham manager yielded a 1-0 win over United at Upton Park.

"We've done that -- if we had got something up at Sheffield United it would have been so precious now. But we've won six out of eight, we've still got another game to go, we've still got to take something out of that game but we've given ourselves a chance," Curbishley said.

"Going into the last month if we had known we'd be going into the last game with a chance, albeit at Old Trafford, we'd have taken it. We have given ourselves a chance and it's in our hands now. Perhaps this week the expectation levels have turned. I think we're playing well and we've got a settled side. We are looking forward to the game. There is no reason why we can't go to Old Trafford and get a result," he said.

Sir Alex Ferguson has already achieved his season's aim by bringing the Premiership title back to Old Trafford for the first time since 2003.

The Manchester United manager has an FA Cup final date with Chelsea next week but is mindful of the impact any decision to rest key players might have on the relegation issues around them.

"We have to respect the position of the other teams at the bottom," said Ferguson. "Paul Jewell has done a fantastic job at Wigan, as has Neil Warnock at Sheffield United. So I cannot be putting a team on the pitch that disrespects those teams. We also have our own reputation to think about, so although I am a great friend of Alan Curbishley, he understands the position I am in and knows I will be playing my strongest team on Sunday."

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