London (AFP) – West Ham’s attempts to solve the crowd control problems that have ruined the club’s move to the London Stadium will be closely scrutinised when Southampton visit on Sunday.
The Hammers’ switch from Upton Park to the former Olympic Stadium in Stratford has been beset by issues with fan safety and a series of ugly brawls broke out during the recent defeat by Watford.
Wes Ham supporters were able to fight with their Watford counterparts due to the lack of segregation between the rival factions.
Making matters worse, some Hammers fans even came to blows with each other in disagreements over the local council policy of insisting supporters stay seated at all times — a rule that had been flouted in many areas of the stadium.
West Ham were handed supposedly low-risk fixtures in a bid to help the east Londoners settle into their new home, but Wednesday’s League Cup fourth round draw gave them a potentially volatile visit from bitter rivals Chelsea next month.
Desperate to avoid any more embarrassment in what was supposed to be a new era of success on and off the pitch, West Ham co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan this week claimed they expect the issues “to be resolved in the coming weeks”.
The club have already relocated 200 disgruntled fans, made an attempt to beef up segregation by cordoning off more seats and vowed to improve stewarding.
But, significantly, there will still be no police presence in the stadium due to the lack of a suitable radio system to help the officers communicate with their superiors.
There were no problems on Wednesday when fourth tier Accrington brought just 600 supporters to watch West Ham snatch a narrow 1-0 victory thanks to Dimitri Payet’s latest sublime free-kick.
But a much larger following is due to travel up from the south coast in support of Southampton this weekend, putting the spotlight back on the security set-up before the Chelsea clash.
– Bad news –
The crowd problems have overshadowed a miserable start on the field as Slaven Bilic’s side struggle to recapture the form that secured a seventh place finish last term.
After five matches, the Hammers are 18th, having lost their previous two league games 4-2 against Watford and West Bromwich Albion.
Bilic is still searching for a winning formula after making 11 close-season signings and there was more bad news this week when one of the new recruits, French defender Arthur Masuaku, was ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury.
Despite a lengthy injury list, Bilic is adamant West Ham should still be able to thrive and he urged the fans to forget their complaints about the stadium and get behind the team.
“I’m not looking for excuses. We have a good team and I expect us to do it on Sunday,” he said.
“I want the fans to be behind us, and they will be. We need their support more than ever and they will play a big part in this game.
“We need them all the time, but especially now to help get out of this situation. I have no doubt they will be very positive.”
However, Southampton arrive in buoyant mood after winning their last three matches in all competitions to give new boss Claude Puel a boost following a four-match winless run.
“We can see the good work on the training sessions and in every game, we are strong in defence and also with good possibilities on the counter-attack, playing good football,” Puel said.
“All of the squad can take confidence from this, to show that it is possible to play these many games every three days, which is what we challenged the squad to do at the start.”
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