Motivational tactics come in many different forms. For some it is a quotation, for others a picture. For rock band Queens of the Stone Age, it is a shared tattoo – one from which West Ham could learn something.
Somewhere on their bodies, all band members have ‘Freitag 4.15’ – a reminder of their performance at 4.15pm on a Friday at the 2001 Rock Am Ring Festival in Germany. Why? Because they agreed it was their worst ever, and they wanted to make sure they never forgot their lowest ebb. For West Ham’s players, it should read Wednesday 7.45 – Wednesday January 8th, to be precise, when they rolled over and died at the Etihad Stadium in their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg, making Tuesday’s return fixture at the Boleyn Ground such an irrelevance that it is astonishing 14,390 people turned up to watch.
The one positive to come from that second leg, apart from the absence of any more injuries, was that by only losing 3-0 West Ham avoided the utter ignominy of a double figures aggregate defeat. But the scarcity of even gallows humour from West Ham fans on social media during the game told its own tale – what’s been going on is actually past a joke. Please, please show us some pride and some fight.
The win at Cardiff was a flicker of hope, but the way a makeshift defence was torn apart by Newcastle in the following game proved there will be no miracle to transform this season. It will be a desperate, ugly scrabble to the end. The irrelevance of the second leg against City was summed up by the fact that BBC Five Live relegated coverage of it to Five Live Sports Extra, rather than the main channel, and instead of one of the usual football commentators, Jonathan Overend – a man more usually associated with tennis, and presumably with extensive experience of watching dead rubbers from his Davis Cup days – was at the mic.
What happened at the Etihad meant what could have been a night to savour was meaningless; the radio audience weren’t interested in it and, as the attendance proved, neither were many fans. That’s a reaction to what we’ve had to endure this season, and that thought should stick in the throats of the players. With 16 games of the season remaining, and the team third from bottom, West Ham’s biggest rope to try to clutch is how competitive it is at the foot of the table. With four points covering eight teams, climbing out – or getting sucked in – only takes a couple of results.
Recovery, and salvaging something from the season, is still possible, especially if the team can remember Wednesday 7.45, and use its sting to propel them into action. The sooner that happens, the better, because the final game of the season on Sunday May 11 is… away at Manchester City. And if Wednesday 7.45 cannot inspire them, then the words Sunday 3pm, again at the Etihad, could end up being carved into the tombstone of West Ham’s Premier League stay.