MARK NOBLE walked home from West Ham’s Boleyn Ground after his debut for the club at just 17. As a supporter, he might have guessed already there would be more trials than triumphs ahead.
Nearly 10 years later, he has the experience of one failed battle against relegation to guide him through the club’s latest stumble close to the Premier League’s trapdoor.
As he prepares for a home game against Newcastle tomorrow every bit as critical as the victorious trip to Cardiff which halted a crisis last weekend, Noble gives a unique insight into the psychological turmoil of a battle against the drop.
The kid from Canning Town can tell it as it is and be respected as one of the fans’ own.
“I have been at this club a long time and if you can’t deal with that sort of stuff, you’ll go under here,” Noble said yesterday, a newly refreshed mood of determination and willingness to confront the struggle buzzing around the training HQ in suburban Essex.
“It is a big club. But over the years, it has had a lot of ups and downs. So there is a lot of pressure with the fans. They are an unbelievable bunch, but they will let you know if they think you are not pulling your weight.
“When they get behind you, it is an amazing place to play. But there have been players who have come and who have folded under it all. I’ve seen them buckle at Upton Park and play within themselves.
“You’ve got to be able to grind through that. It is probably just fear and nerves. And if you’re in this position, it doesn’t help. But if the players and the team don’t work hard, we’ll get relegated. Simple.
“What you want is to play in the Premier League. Full stop. I’ve played in the Championship. I don’t want to play there again for West Ham.”
Going under, buckling, would never be an option for Noble, the 26-year-old deep midfielder who seized hold of the knife-edge situation at Cardiff with such impressive gusto that on Match of the Day that night, Alan Hansen hailed one of “the performances of the season”.
After his late goal sealed a 2-0 win, West Ham clambered into 17th place. Now, when Newcastle visit, the focus will inevitably zero in on the Geordie returning from injury who is cast as the saviour of the Cockneys, Andy Carroll.
“In fact, it’s now rare for young players to come through at all. So many managers’ jobs are on the line that it is getting harder for them to pick youngsters.
“You see it on TV– players making their debut at 20, 21. I played at Tottenham against Edgar Davids when I was 17. You don’t get much of that any more. It’s worrying for the English game.”
More immediately, the relegation fight stretches down from 10th-placed Hull, who are only five points ahead of West Ham. Noble insists his team have already hit “rock bottom” in the consecutive 5-0 and 6-0 cup defeats by Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. “The fans were sick of it and let their emotions show,” he admitted. Now comes the recovery.
“At Cardiff, we had the injured and suspended players on the bench. They travelled to stick with the team. You don’t get that often. We need to keep that togetherness and get ourselves out of the rubbish.
“I’ve been in this position before in 2010 and we went down. We got ourselves into this and we’ve got to get out of it. We’ve got no option now but to try to win every game.”
West Ham’s Modibo Maiga has rejected a loan switch to QPR.
He had been given permission to leave after scoring just two goals in 19 games.
West Ham’s Andy Carroll is returning to fitness, Carlton Cole has signed a new 18-month contract at the club and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert remains a £7million target to further limit Maiga’s chances of first-team football.
QPR boss Harry Redknapp, however, still hopes to strengthen his striking options and is likely to instead pursue Auxerre’s Paul Georges-Ntep and Inter Milan’s Ishak Belfodil.
His side are third in the Championship and possess one of the best defences in the league but have scored just 29 goals in 25 games.
The Hammers have already rejected a starting bid of £4million for the talented England Under-21 international.
The offer was part of a combined £7.5million bid for Morrison and team-mate Momo Diame.
It is understood, however, that West Ham would agree to an offer that would start at an initial £6.5million, rising to £8million through numerous add ons.
Fulham could be reluctant to meet that price given Morrison is yet to fully prove himself as a consistent performer in the Barclays Premier League.
But manager Rene Meulensteen, who has the final say on all transfers at Craven Cottage, remains determined to reunite himself with a player he worked with at Manchester United.
Likewise, sources close to Morrison insists the 20-year-old is keen to join up with his former Old Traford coach in this window
FIND THE MISTAKE
REBEL Ravel Morrison trained “with a smile on his face” — despite threatening to force through a move to Fulham.
Assistant boss Kevin MacDonald said: “There seems to be a story about Rav every week.
“The lad comes in and trains, sometimes he has had a little bit of a groin injury, but we’ve man-managed that.
“He trained on Wednesday with a huge, big smile on his face with the rest of the squad.
“We look forward to him being in the squad on Saturday, he should be fit, he’s been training with the lads and he’s brought a lot of joy, especially with winning against Cardiff — he cheered everyone up when he came back as well.”
Furious West Ham snubbed a £7million offer from Meulensteen for Morrison AND midfielder Mohamed Diame before reporting Fulham for tapping up their star.
The England Under-21 ace is on £15,000 a week and has a clause in his contract that would spark and automatic pay hike to £60,000 if any club bids £10m for him.
It is thought that boss Sam Allardyce would consider selling Morrison is an offer of £10m came in.