1 May ~ Beleaguered West Ham manager Avram Grant has to make what could be a career-defining decision today as he decides whether to field Scott Parker against Manchester City. The recently named Football Writers’ Player of the Year is reportedly fit again after missing the Hammers’ last two matches with an Achilles injury and his return to the side could not come soon enough with West Ham languishing at the foot of the Premier League table. However Grant’s conundrum is not that simple due to the last three games on the Hammers’ fixture list.
After their visit to Eastlands, West Ham welcome both Blackburn and Sunderland to Upton Park, while in between travelling to Wigan. Seven points from these matches could well be enough to maintain Premier League status and could persuade Grant to give Parker an extra week off. If he does, the FA would have every right to charge the club with fielding a weakened team such has been Parker’s influence in east London. That West Ham even have a chance of staying up after another woeful season is almost entirely down to the England midfielder.
Whatever he decides to do with Parker, recent history suggests it will be a long afternoon for Grant’s men. West Ham haven’t won away in the league at City since 2003 and have shipped three goals in each of their last two visits to Eastlands. And Roberto Mancini’s men also ran out 3-1 winners in a one-sided encounter at Upton Park earlier this season.
Parker’s inclusion is not the only big decision for Grant to make and the manager is likely to tinker with his side yet again as he desperately searches for a winning formula. While it appears, for better or worse, Grant has settled on his preferred defenders and midfielders he has no idea of his best striking combination. Carlton Cole, Demba Ba, Robbie Keane, Freddie Piquionne, Victor Obinna and more recently Freddie Sears have all played some role in the past month but the Hammers are desperately lacking the goals which would haul them to safety – which again returns us to Parker who has scored five crucial league goals this season.
Despite a convincing 3-0 scoreline West Ham had their moments at Chelsea last Saturday and the return of Parker could give a side low on confidence a much-needed boost. And another decent Parker-inspired performance will also set them up nicely for the crucial final three games. But what if he were to get injured? Grant would be pilloried for fielding his top man in a game they were never likely to win. While Grant is unlikely to be at Upton Park next season no matter what happens, his decision on Parker could shape both his and West Ham’s long-term prospects. Mark Segal