West Ham United's relegation from the Premier League has been on the cards for some time. This in itself prevents the Hammers' demotion from being a surprise, but a look at the club's squad suggests a bottom placed finished was unexpected and something few predicted at the start of the season.
When Avram Grant replaced Gianfranco Zola as manager in June 2010, optimism at Upton Park was genuine. With a manager owning experience and success in the Premier League, a squad containing England internationals Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole should surely have been aiming for more than just the narrow survival secured the previous year by Zola. The Premier League odds certainly suggested they should have done better.
The squad has been strengthened over the course of the season – Frederic Piquionne, Thomas Hitzelsperger, Robbie Keane and Wayne Bridge are proven Premier League, Demba Ba a revelation – and it does not suffer in comparison with West Ham's rivals.
It is undeniable that this nucleus of players appears stronger on paper than those at many other clubs, in particular Blackpool, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic but, as West Ham are apt at proving, this counts for little in the Premier League.
The financial insecurity, injuries, new ownership and mid-season manoeuvrings to replace Grant are strong mitigating circumstances, but West Ham should still have had enough to retain top flight status.
Grant never fixed a defensive fragility that saw the team ship 12 goals in four opening defeats and a propensity for letting leads slip. The decisive defeat at Wigan typified this, taking to 22 the number of points that were lost this season from winning positions.
Whoever replaces the Israeli will not find promotion easy, especially as at will be attempted without Parker and Ba, the two players to have emerged from the wreckage of this season in real credit. The truth is that perhaps Grant and the collection of internationals at his disposal are not as good as we thought.