Curbs: A battle to the end

Make no mistake, it's make or break for the Hammers as the relegation battle now enters the final 10 games of the season.

And before he unbolted the locked door of the visitors' dressing room at The Valley, Alan Curbishley was under no illusions when he issued a stern challenge to his bruised and battered troops.

"Are we going to go down with a whimper or are we going to come out, put up a fight and stay up?" asked the Hammers' boss whose return to the club he managed for 15 years ended in a forlorn four-goal defeat. "I'm as devastated as the fans after that performance and now we've got to pick up the pieces after another poor, poor weekend.

"It would've been nice to come back here without having so much at stake but we all knew the importance of this game and the first goal was always going to be vital. We were disappointed to give it away - there was a hint offside - but it was a clinical finish as were their two other first-half strikes.

"After that, there was no coming back for us and the only two positives to come out of the game were the chances we created in the second half - albeit the match was already all over by then - and the fans who've been constant in their support for us even though we've been so inconsistent. They're still there, right behind the team.

"Following the Watford defeat, it's been a disastrous couple of weeks for us," continued Curbs, who has now endured back-to-back losses in two 'Must Win' games against Hammers' relegation rivals. "We are where we are in Premiership table and it's a culmination of factors as to why the club's down at the bottom and injuries are still coming along thick and fast.

"I picked a team to face Charlton on Thursday but that had changed dramatically by Friday and I was without seven defenders today. That's been par for the course since I've been here.

"Alan Pardew had some battle hardened players who've been here previously and, perhaps, mine haven't experienced this before. But this defeat's not just a one-off and, while some of the teams around us have managed to pick up some points and give themselves lift-off, it's just been one thing after another for us.

"To go back into training on a Sunday or Monday morning with some points gives everyone that lift but we just haven't managed to do that for some time now.

"The last 11 weeks have really hurt me but I wouldn't change a thing. The West Ham job came up and - except for the league position which I was confident would improve - it ticked all the boxes for me.

"But we've gone well past the disappointed stage now," confessed Curbs, whose unlucky 13-match Premiership reign has yielded just that solitary victory over Manchester United, which came just four days after his arrival in mid- December. "I didn't expect this to be the outcome and I've looked back and questioned what I've done during that time.

"I came into a difficult situation and that's even more difficult now. It's been like a whirlwind and it's also been very difficult but I'm learning more and more as time goes on.

"It's so easy for the press to sit there and criticise us but I realise that this is a results business and we need lift-off, too.

"I also know I'm not immune to anything - that was also the case when I was manager of Charlton - but I sat down with the chairman on three or four occasions last week, alone, and we haven't had any conversations about next year.

"If anyone had said last summer that the managers of both these clubs would've swapped over by the time that they came to play this game no-one would've believed it, but anything can happen. That's football!

"Right now, everyone's being very supportive and we're all trying to get ourselves out of the mess that we're currently in.

"It would be nice to get some of the players fit, pick up some results and keep a settled side because we've got to get some confidence and continuity going.

"I expected a result against Charlton and I expect a result when we play Spurs next Sunday. There are 10, tough games left but there are still loads of points to play for," concluded Curbs reminding everyone of his rallying call.

"As I've said, are we going to go down with a whimper or are we going to come out, put up a fight and stay up? As far as I'm concerned we've got to make sure that we battle all the way to the end."

by Steve Blowers