Pressure begins to rise on Grant and Hughes

The managers of West Ham and Fulham need to win to alleviate fear of being replaced.

Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, needs a win today to ease the pressure on him.
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The rather substantial shadow of Sam Allardyce and the much more diminutive figure of Chris Hughton will loom large over Craven Cottage today.

The two unemployed managers will be interested observers from a far as two of the Premier League's under-pressure managers pit their wits in west London. Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, might not quite be on a stool next to Avram Grant, his counterpart at West Ham United, in the Last Chance Saloon but Hughes is edging ever closer to moving into the same bar.

It has almost gone unnoticed that Fulham have fallen into the relegation battle and if they fail to beat the Hammers today the pressure will start to mount on Hughes.

Two seasons ago Mohammed Al Fayed, Fulham's owner, did not have any qualms about firing Lawrie Sanchez just six months into the job when it looked like the club would be drifting out of the division. And the specualtion about Hughes' position has not been quite as intense about as that surrounding, informed sources close to Fulham suggest the Welshman's position is under increasing scrutiny.

A win today would grant Hughes some breathing space but it is unlikely even West Ham's first away win since the opening game of last season can save Grant given the club's desperate position at the foot of the table.

As supportive as the club's owners have been of Grant and their reluctance to remove a manager they appointed in the summer, they increasingly feel a change is needed to avoid the club suffering the huge financial consequences of relegation. Their big conundrum has been just who should replace Grant.

The positive impact Wally Downes, the recently appointed coach, has made at the club has been marked but he is not seen a potential successor to Grant. The availability of Allardyce after his sacking by Blackburn Rovers has made him a strong contender but The National understands the club's board have reservations about how much Allardyce and his backroom staff would cost.

Hughton, who was sacked in controversial fashion by Newcastle United, would be less expensive and he would have no problem winning over the fans having been born in the area and having played for the club.

Fulham would also see both Allardyce and Hughton as ideal candidates if they decided to part company with Hughes.

Allardyce is on holiday in Dubai and is yet to declare his hand but Hughton appeared to put himself back on the market this week when he came out and spoke publicly for the first time about his sacking by Newcastle.

"It was a complete surprise and there were lots of emotions," Hughton said in an interview.

"There is no point in dwelling on it too long. What you need to do is look forward. I've had a career in the game and it is a career I want to continue."

It might not be long to find out whether that will be in East or West London. The outcome of today's clash at the Cottage could well decide.