West Ham chiefs told what they must do to stop Declan Rice joining Man Utd

They were the finest double act in pearly king heartlands since pie and mash – but Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie were different gravy.

Between them, McAvennie and Cottee scored 54 goals in the season when West Ham went into the final weekend with a chance of winning the title.

As it transpired, John Lyall's side finished third, only four points behind champions Liverpool. But not even the Hammers' holy trinity of World Cup winners – Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters – made the top three.

And in the land of Knees Up Mother Brown, Lyall's class of 1986 is still revered on much the same level as England's Boys of '66.

Now, in a welcome changing of the guard on the Premier League's upper slopes, the Eastenders are threatening their highest finish for 35 years since McAvennie and Cottee were on the rampage.

Manager David Moyes has done a splendid job turning a club often ripe for mutiny into top-four contenders, and Cottee doesn't understand why he hasn't been tied down to a long-term deal already.

“What are they waiting for? Give the man a three or four-year contract,” said Cottee. “Moyes was a steady hand on the tiller when West Ham were looking over their shoulders, and now they are genuine contenders for a place in Europe. It's time to give him the reward he deserves.

“It was a bizarre decision to get rid of him after he came in as a firefighter to steer the club away from relegation three years ago, and he did the same job last season.

“I know there's a long way to go, but why shouldn't West Ham think big? Why shouldn't Moyes take them into Europe, like he did with Everton?

“Without wishing to call time on Mark Noble, because he's been a fantastic captain and he's Mr West Ham, it would be a fitting tribute to his career and long service if they qualified for the Champions League or won the FA Cup.

“And if they can offer him European football or win a trophy, it would send a clear signal to Declan Rice that he doesn't have to go to Chelsea or Manchester United – because he can fulfil his ambitions as the heir apparent in claret and blue.”

Cottee is now 55 and approaching his 20th anniversary as a Sky Sports pundit after two decades as a player. In his last year, he played for clubs clubs in all four divisions – Leicester, Norwich, Millwall and Barnet.

And among 21st century footballers, only Alan Shearer has scored more goals in the top flight than Cottee.

But his partnership with McAvennie was not an instant success. Cottee was worried enough about the Hammers' little-known recruit from St Mirren to visit Lyall at home and seek reassurances about his place in the side.

“To be honest, I had never heard of him,” he said. “I was thinking, 'Frank who?' But he made an instant impression against QPR.

“I was having a hard time against Alan McDonald – a great lad, tough as nails, who is sadly no longer with us – so Frank and I swapped sides.

“Chasing one ball into touch, Frank left his challenge until the last possible moment and deposited McDonald into the Chicken Run, where some of the West Ham boys gave him a 'helping hand' back over the fence.

“We made a poor start, losing three of our first four games, which ultimately cost us the title, and the lads called a players' meeting at the training ground at Chadwell Heath.

“I wouldn't say the defenders were ganging up on me, but where Frank was a real team player – always chasing lost causes and closing down – I was a lazy, old-fashioned striker who was only interested in scoring goals.

“The senior pros, like Alvin Martin and Tony Gale, told me I had to help out more when we didn't have the ball, but Frank stood up for me, and I always admired him for that.

“After that meeting, we went on a club record 18-match unbeaten run, and we were so close to winning the title I don't think we realised the magnitude of what was within our reach.

“But what a team we had – Ray Stewart was one of the best penalty-takers I've ever seen. You never died wondering if he was going to blast it or place it, and I think only Matt Le Tissier had a better record from the spot in that era.

“We still think we were the best team in the League that year, and 17 club records still stand from that season.

“It's a great tribute to David Moyes that this year's team could be West Ham's best since we went so close to the title.”

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