Captain Matt is up for the fight
MATTHEW UPSON is a big man. Over six feet tall in his stockinged feet he is a big lump of muscle and not someone to be messed with, writes DAVE EVANS. But when diminutive manager Gianfranco Zola lost his temper at half time against Arsenal on Sunday, Upso
MATTHEW UPSON is a big man. Over six feet tall in his stockinged feet he is a big lump of muscle and not someone to be messed with, writes DAVE EVANS.
But when diminutive manager Gianfranco Zola lost his temper at half time against Arsenal on Sunday, Upson and the rest of the West Ham players found themselves first cowering in the dressing room and then determined to put things right in the second 45 minutes at Upton Park.
"He had some stern words to say to us actually," revealed the 30-year-old centre half, "but there were some positives to come out of it as well.
"There were some things he really wanted to mention and he put that across and everybody then went out with the attitude that if we were going to lose the game, then Arsenal were going to have to work really hard to take it from us."
It has been a rollercoaster few weeks for the former Birmingham City and Arsenal defender. Overlooked by Fabio Capello for England in favour of the slapdash, error-prone Rio Ferdinand, he was in the wars at Stoke last week.
After an initial crunching accidental kick to the head from Ryan Shawcross, he then headed in his second goal of the campaign, was at fault for the Stoke winner and then found himself punched in the face by Potters' defender Robert Huth to complete an incident-packed afternoon.
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Sunday's clash with the Gunners was more uneventful for Upson, but the fully-recovered captain is well aware that confidence in the team is not at its highest at the moment.
"They scored the first goal and it was a poor one to concede," said Upson. "We were disappointed and you could feel the players drop, I felt, for about 10 minutes.
"That gave them the upper hand and they had a lot of possession. We didn't press the ball well enough, but full credit to the players for the application they showed in the second half to get back into the game."
Upson led his team well after the break and he feels that the 2-2 draw could be the start of some good things to come in the near future.
"It was an important draw for us," he said. "Given the run of results we've had and the position we're in, it was an important draw.
"Not just from a points point of view, but for the spirit and the belief in the team that we can go on and win matches - that's what we've got to believe."
Having got back level with 10 minutes still to go, the England centre half felt that West Ham could even have won the match, especially with one player in particular causing chaos in the Arsenal defence.
"I think we could have nicked it," he confirmed. "We were on a bit of a run and Carlton was on absolute fire at that point and they didn't know what to do with him. He had an outstanding last 25 minutes."
West Ham still sit second from bottom in the Premier League table, but Upson is looking for Sunday's result to provide them with lift-off for the rest of the campaign.
"I hope so," he said. "I think we need a couple of wins and then we'll really pick it up. It is a positive note to head up to Sunderland, which will be a tough game, but hopefully we can get something from that."
Upson will certainly be looking for another fine performance. Capello will pick his squad in a couple of weeks for the friendly international with Brazil in Dubai on November 14 and the West Ham man will be desperate to get the chance to prove himself at centre half once more in the run-up to the finals in South Africa next summer.
In the meantime, his toughest job must be as captain of West Ham as they try to haul themselves up the league table.