West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini insisted the speculation he was on the verge of being sacked was no distraction after a dream debut for an emotional David Martin inspired Saturday’s shock 1-0 win at Chelsea.
Pellegrini’s decision to give Martin his first Premier League start proved a successful gamble and left the 33-year-old goalkeeper crying tears of joy at the final whistle.
While Martin’s moment in the spotlight was as heart-warming as it was unexpected, West Ham’s first win in eight league games made the trip to Stamford Bridge even more significant for Pellegrini, who was reportedly given two matches to save his job this week.
The former Manchester City boss, whose team have clambered clear of the relegation zone, said the key was keeping his players focused despite the sack talk.
“For me the most difficult thing this week was not being worried about the job or what was happening in the future, it was to convince the players not to change the style even though we weren’t having the results we needed,” Pellegrini said.
“I wanted them to enjoy playing. When you make changes and don’t win you are a beast and when you make changes and do win you are a genius.”
With first choice Lukasz Fabianski injured and his deputy Roberto in terrible form, journeyman Martin was handed his first appearance following his close-season free transfer from local rivals Millwall.
Martin, who has spells at Tranmere, Accrington and MK Dons among many unglamorous stops on his CV, was at fault for a last-second goal in Millwall’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat against Brighton last season.
But Pellegrini was sure he would rise to the occasion in his long-awaited top-flight debut.
Martin’s clean-sheet wasn’t without a few nervy moments in truth, but he was hugged by the entire team at full-time before clambering into the stands to see his father Alvin Martin, a West Ham stalwart who spent over 20 years as a defender with the east Londoners.
“Yes of course I know his family is linked with this club. It wasn’t easy for him to make his first start in this moment,” Pellegrini said.
“But when I spoke with him in the week I could see he was prepared. He was calm before the game and he demonstrated that in the 90 minutes.”
Below par Chelsea
Wiping away the tears, Martin, born not far from West Ham in Romford, said: “It still doesn’t feel real. I’m just pleased I got through it, I didn’t let anyone down and actually I enjoyed it in the end.
“My dad didn’t say much. I think we were both in tears. For my dad to play for the club for 21 years and for me to make my debut and get a win for the boys, it is so pleasing.”
Chelsea remain fourth after a second successive league defeat stalled the momentum from their impressive recent run.
Blues boss Frank Lampard was critical of his side’s lack of creativity, but with England striker Tammy Abraham sidelined by a hip injury Lampard conceded Chelsea’s lack of depth, due to their transfer ban, could be an issue as he tries to keep the squad fresh.
“We gave everything physically in Valencia and arrived back late. It gave me a look at where we are physically,” he said.
“We were below par in many parts of our game. We didn’t do enough in the final third. That has been a theme of our games in the last week. We need to be more inventive.
“The transfer ban has been well spoken about. That is something that will be talked about outside. But it’s no time for harsh reactions.
“I still believe in the squad. I don’t think this will be the worst thing for us as long as we react in the right way.