Comment - Why West Ham are not too good to go down
There's an old saying in English football, one which is seemingly wheeled-out every time a 'big club' is hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone.
"They're too good to go down."
I can definitely sympathise with the sentiment behind this increasingly common footballing phrase - after all, most of us would like to think we could predict the relegation candidates before a ball has even been kicked.
Have a glance through the Premier League squad lists and you can immediately see who has the quality, strength in depth and experience to avoid the dreaded-drop down to the Championship - can't you?
The expression might be growing in popularity, but in recent seasons we've seen its failings on a grand scale.
Take Leeds for example - Champions League semi-finalists in 2001 to Championship strugglers just three seasons later.
Or what about Newcastle? Visits to Old Trafford and Anfield replaced with trips to Scunthorpe and Plymouth.
And don't forget Norwich and Southampton, both plying their trade in League One after proud histories in the top-flight.
But despite the masses of evidence, the saying just won't go away - once again rearing its ugly head down at Upton Park.
West Ham United are what most people would describe as a Premier League club - a famous history, prolific academy and strong support base among the attributes that should ensure a place in England's top league.
But the size of their stadium or how much the playing staff are worth doesn't give the Hammers a divine right to avoid dropping down to the second tier.
With everyone fit and firing on all cylinders, the Hammers have a squad that should be comfortably mid-table, but they currently find themselves in 17th position, just three points away from the relegation zone.
Injuries and financial worries off the pitch have impacted their season, but anyone who thinks Gianfranco Zola's men are too good for Championship football next season is living in a dream world.
Five consecutive defeats, the latest to fellow strugglers Wolves at Upton Park on Tuesday evening, are proof that no matter how good a team is on paper, they can and will go down if they don't perform.
If it wasn't for Portsmouth's point deduction and the abysmal form of Hull and Burnley, the Irons' predicament would be even worse than it already is.
And although I still think they'll stay up by the skin of their teeth, fans of the East London club need look no further than their relegation in 2003 for a harsh reminder of what can happen.
A squad containing the likes of David James, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glenn Johnson, Frederic Kanoute and Jermain Defoe somehow conspired to finish 18th in the league, earning them a spot in division one for the following two seasons.
The current crop of players includes an English core of Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole – and it could be this English heart and spirit which pulls United out of the rut they find themselves in.
But if these players fail to justify both their reputations and price tags, trips to Preston, Ipswich and QPR next season are still a genuine, and frightening proposition.
- Joe Strange
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