Perhaps this time the Ferryman will not accept the fare. Wednesday’s unlikely victory over Chelsea, allied to the abjection of Norwich and Bournemouth and the struggles of Aston Villa and Watford, means West Ham may survive this season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t major questions for the club to answer, foremost among them who should be their manager.
Wednesday’s Premier League game turned out to be a clash of two managerial flaws, the inability of Frank Lampard sides to defend set‑pieces or counterattacks winning out over the tendency of David Moyes sides to drop deeper and deeper, particularly when they have something to defend. The victory may end up being decisive, but there can be no long-lasting sense of wellbeing.
Since Moyes’s return to the club at the end of last year, West Ham have picked up 11 points from 13 games. To point out the club are badly run is true, but the return of Moyes after the dalliance with Manuel Pellegrini is a part of that.
In their penultimate game of the 2015-16 season, Sunderland beat Everton 3-0 to seal yet another great escape. It was their last great night. Sam Allardyce danced on the pitch, downed two bottles of lager during his press conference and carried on drinking with the club legend Jim Montgomery in the bar at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn.
Sunderland ended that season with a run of 11 games when they lost once, but, more than that, three of Allardyce’s January signings – Lamine Koné, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri – had made an impact and there was, for the first time in a long time, a sense Sunderland had not only survived but also had a clear vision of where they were going.
Four months later, Sunderland played Everton at home again, in their fourth game of the new season. This time they lost 3-0 and the mood couldn’t have been more different. Khazri had been sidelined. Koné, who had scored twice in the May game and had been well on the way to cult status, played in a fug of disillusionment. Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong had inexplicably been signed; Yann M’Vila, despite an impressive year on loan, inexplicably hadn’t.
Nobody paid a bigger price for England’s collapse against Iceland in the Euros than Sunderland. Allardyce had already been chuntering about a lack of transfer funds when Roy Hodgson was ousted, but he was never going to turn the England job down. So Sunderland turned to Moyes.
The line between realism and negativity is fine, but Moyes very quickly slipped to the wrong side of it. Before the Everton defeat, he gave an extraordinarily pessimistic interview. Not unreasonably, fans asked what had changed since the last time they had played Everton, how a boisterous 3-0 win had in four months become a dismal 3-0 defeat. From a Sunderland point of view, the difference was Moyes.