Grant pays the price as Hammers capitulate
Wigan Athletic 3
West Ham Utd 2
Published 16/05/2011 | 05:00
So Avram Grant has discovered that West Ham don't just blow bubbles. Their ability to blow a 2-0 lead and any hope of Premier League survival has now cost him his job as manager.
Typically, the fate of Grant and his team was sealed amid a farce of cock-ups, recrimination and a fly-past by a plane with a banner stating, 'Avram Grant -- Millwall Legend'.
West Ham will play in the Championship next season after a 2-0 lead, secured by two Demba Ba headers, was obliterated by a second-half Wigan fightback which culminated in Robert Green allowing Charles N'Zogbia's 94th-minute strike to slip through his legs.
For Green, it was Rustenburg all over again, as N'Zogbia's shot squirmed beneath him in the manner of Clint Dempsey's daisy-cutter for the United States during the World Cup.
But for West Ham, the damage had already been done, with N'Zogbia's first and ex-UCD man Conor Sammon's equaliser already nudging them over the precipice.
Wigan now travel to Stoke on Sunday with real hope of escaping relegation on the final day of the campaign. Manager Roberto Martinez said: "At half-time, it was a real mountain for us, but that is when the character came out. I don't think the second-half performance was an accident. My players were magnificent."
Green's injury-time gaffe merely set the seal on West Ham's nightmare season, but the fall-out will not stop with relegation and Grant's dismissal. Co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold must now attempt to restore the club to the Premier League before their move to the Olympic Stadium in 2014.
Yet West Ham only have themselves to blame. Over 90 minutes at Wigan, they gave themselves a vice-like grip on a lifeline only to throw it back to one of their closest rivals.
With less than half an hour gone, West Ham appeared on course to repeat their unlikely escape from relegation in 2007, when seven goals in 10 games from Carlos Tevez propelled Alan Curbishley's team clear of the bottom three.
Ba looked to be filling the Tevez role as his two headers made it seven goals in 11 games for the Senegalese forward.
His first, a glancing header from Thomas Hitzlsperger's cross, coincided with Birmingham falling behind at home to Fulham. Hope flourished.
When he scored his second, on 26 minutes, another header from James Tomkins' glance across the face of goal, Wigan appeared doomed and West Ham were eyeing the prospect of needing three points at home to Sunderland on Sunday to escape the drop.
But the roof fell in on Grant's players early in the second half when referee Mike Dean correctly awarded a free-kick, 20 yards from goal, following a clumsy Tomkins foul on N'Zogbia. N'Zogbia dusted himself off before firing past Green to give Wigan hope.
The visitors responded and Ba found himself with only Ali Al Habsi to beat from 15 yards, but the Wigan goalkeeper blocked his effort and, two minutes later Wigan were back on level terms.
Ben Watson's pass to Sammon just inside the penalty area saw the Irish forward beat Danny Gabbidon before guiding a right-footed strike into the corner.
Both sides chased the winner. Zavon Hines saw a shot cleared off the line by Gary Caldwell, Carlton Cole had an overhead kick cleared by Al Habsi and then, in the final minute of stoppage-time, N'Zogbia cut West Ham adrift and gave his own team the chance of a final-day escape. (© Daily Telegraph, London)