4 April ~ It would take enormous front for West Ham United to consider an official complaint against Fulham for putting out an alleged "weakened" team against Hull City last weekend. On this occasion, however, Fulham haven't cheated. They have simply prioritised their games and pooled their resources accordingly. They won't go down and also won't reach the top seven, so the only way they can qualify for European competition again is to win the Europa League.
A game against Hull City equates to a fixture they could do without and so Roy Hodgson rested his key performers prior to the next European tie and fielded a few stiffs. It is rare for a Premier League side to be in a position where another competition is more important than the alleged bread and butter, but in Fulham's case it's obvious.
West Ham's outrage has yet to develop beyond a rumour stirred up by dewy-eyed media commentators who think the world will end if the club that produced Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking should somehow be relegated again. But the Hammers could not look more hypocritical if they tried. They rested their key performers at Arsenal recently and were, to all intents and purposes, not criticised for doing so – even Sir Alex Ferguson at his most extreme wouldn't suggest that a full strength West Ham would have any chance of taking something from the Emirates. Gianfranco Zola did it in order to keep his best players fresh for the forthcoming games at home to Wolves and Stoke City, both of which were eminently winnable. That his side then lost both of those matches, and incurred some fierce criticism in doing so, is down to Zola and the club that employs him.
Hull City, for their part, went into the Fulham game without their first-choice central defensive pairing, their first-choice left-back and their top scorer who also happens to be the only natural left-sided midfielder in the whole squad. Perhaps if Fulham had won the game somebody else somewhere could have complained that the Tigers had fielded a weakened team. Some Hull City fans would retort that they select a weakened team every week even when everybody is fit. Indeed, many Tigers fans claim that the current squad is weaker than that which avoided the drop on the final day of last season.
West Ham's real reason for putting the boot in on Roy Hodgson's team selection is to have an excuse ready if they lose their Premier League place while Hull, a team seen as having little right to be in the top tier, remain in place. The same thing happened a year ago with Newcastle United, whose apologists somehow felt that it was "wrong" that a club with such "tradition" (that word gets used a lot when things go belly up, as does "brilliant fans") should depart while Hull remained. As if the basic principle involving points on the board and goals in the net suddenly didn't matter.
West Ham need to sort out their own problems before they start seeking third-party scapegoat. That can be achieved by having players that care, a manager who can properly inspire them and owners who don't put their own egos and thirst for publicity and acceptance among Hammers fans before the welfare of the team. At the moment, they actually don't seem to have any of those things. And Roy Hodgson isn't to blame for that. Matthew Rudd