LONDON (Reuters) - West Ham United fans are used to seeing their dreams fade and die but even their most long-suffering supporter could not have envisaged that a season supposed to herald a bold new era would crumble so fast.
Defeat at Liverpool on Sunday would probably plunge the club into the bottom three. In reality, they will be happy to escape a mauling, especially with title-chasing Liverpool smarting from last weekend’s 4-3 loss at Bournemouth.
Manager Slaven Bilic spoke candidly of the problems at the heart of West Ham’s rapid fall from grace after last weekend’s 5-1 home thrashing by Arsenal at the London Stadium.
The Croat’s suggestion that his squad had lost the work ethic that took them to the fringe of the top four in May was worrying as he also admitted his team were now in the thick of a relegation battle.
Co-owner David Sullivan offered his support this week, but Bilic’s position will look as precarious as the partly demolished stands at the club’s former Boleyn ground if he cannot reverse the slide soon.
Some of the problems have been beyond Bilic’s control.
A terrible spate of injuries robbed West Ham of the likes Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll, although the latter has now recovered and is fit to face his former club.
And the move to the former Olympic Stadium, which was supposed to propel the club into the giants of European football, has left them scrambling round the bottom of the Premier League.
Crowd trouble has poisoned the atmosphere, and the noise levels and energy created at Upton Park, where West Ham were such a handful last season, have dipped.
Whether Bilic can be blamed for talisman Dimitri Payet’s loss of form is open to debate, with some suggesting the Frenchman is eyeing a January move.
But the way West Ham went missing against Arsenal last weekend, when the visitors could have been four, not just one, ahead at the break, revealed a chronic confidence crisis just when pressure games against fellow strugglers Hull City, Burnley and Swansea City loom.
The Hammers have conceded 29 league goals this season - only bottom club Swansea have leaked more - and only won three times in 14 matches.
How different to last season when West Ham beat Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield, 2-0 at Upton Park and also knocked Juergen Klopp’s side out of the FA Cup after a replay.
By contrast, Klopp’s side have been a revelation, although the way they surrendered a 3-1 lead to lose at Bournemouth on Sunday exposed the defensive frailties that could undermine their title challenge.
That defeat ended a 15-match unbeaten run and left Liverpool four points behind leaders Chelsea in third place.
Former striker Ian Rush said it was important they prove that was just a blip.
“Everyone will make mistakes, but learn from them, put them right in the next game and you’ll be fine,” Rush told the club’s website. “It’s about getting a win against West Ham and getting back on track and we’ll be fine.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Neil Robinson