Tony Cottee: West Ham players must take blame for dismal start

West Ham's players must take responsibility for the club's poor start to the season, says Tony Cottee


This weekend's match against Fulham is shaping up to be one of our biggest games of the season after another defeat at Manchester City on Monday.

The loss at Eastlands means we're in the Premier League's bottom three ahead of Sunday's clash at Upton Park and a lot of fans will be feeling concerned about the situation.

I hope the players respond by producing the kind of performance they're capable of.

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There's no shame in losing to Man City, who are a team I think will finish in the top four this season, but the manner of the defeat was poor and the players owe it to the supporters and the manager to turn it around by beating Fulham.

I think it's still too early to say we're in a relegation fight after just six games of the season.

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A lot of people forget this, but our famous 85/86 team only won one of the first seven games that season.

At that stage, no one would've thought we'd go on to challenge for the title, but six or seven games into the campaign is far too early to make definitive judgements about teams.

That's why I get frustrated when I see clubs sacking their managers four or five games into the season - you've got to give them time to turn it around, to find the right blend in the team and develop a system of play.

We turned it around by arranging a team meeting that the manager wasn't even involved in.

As players, we knew things weren't happening, so we had a meeting and there were a lot of angry words exchanged - a few defenders thought I wasn't working hard enough for the team, but Frank McAvennie and Mark Ward stood up for me.

But we smoothed things out and made sure everyone was on the same page, and after that we won our next game and went on a run of 20 games unbeaten.

In other words, there comes a time when the players have to take some responsibility.

Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke can do all the preparation in the world - they can work on the training ground to install some organisation in the back four and come up with a system to beat Fulham, but once the whistle goes, there's nothing they can do.

When the players cross the white line, the coaching staff are powerless to affect what's happening because they're relying on the team to carry out their instructions and do their jobs.

That's why we didn't involve John Lyall when we organised that team meeting at the beginning of the 85/86 season - he was doing everything right in terms of preparing us as a team, but as players we were letting him down.

Robert Green voiced some criticism of the team after we lost at Bolton last week and as the England goalkeeper, I think he was right to do so.

Some people might not approve of a player speaking out about his colleagues, but he did it in a measured, general way and I think it shows that the players care about what's happening and are desperate to turn it around.

Sometimes as a player, you need to hear some home truths. I know when I was accused of not working hard enough by some senior players in that meeting, it made me realise that maybe I could do more to help the team.

The fact is that sometimes you've got to point fingers. Football is an emotional game and you don't want people coming into the dressing room after a defeat and saying 'Well done', 'never mind' or 'better luck next time'.

Sometimes you've got to have a go at a mate even though he's your mate, have a push and a shove and an argument to get these things sorted out and then you can shake hands the next morning and put it behind you.

Look at John Terry - he was pointing the finger at his team-mates after Chelsea lost at Wigan on Saturday, and Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney are the same at Manchester United. Those players don't settle for second best and that's the attitude we need in the Upton Park dressing room.

We've got to play better than we have been - and a lot of that responsibility falls on the players.

Now it's time for them to roll up their sleeves and do everything in their power to beat Fulham.

Tony Cottee was talking to Jonathan Clegg

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