Cole faces up to gruelling return
CARLTON COLE looked shattered when he trudged off the pitch after a gruelling 45 minutes at Goodison Park on Saturday, but in that short space of time he had shown exactly what the Hamm-ers have been missing, writes DAVE EVANS. The 25-year-old internation
CARLTON COLE looked shattered when he trudged off the pitch after a gruelling 45 minutes at Goodison Park on Saturday, but in that short space of time he had shown exactly what the Hamm-ers have been missing, writes DAVE EVANS.
The 25-year-old international centre forward has been out with a groin strain since England's 4-0 thrashing of Slovakia on March 28, and though he was nowhere near match fit, he still held the ball up cleverly, put one player clean through and almost carved out a chance of his own.
In short, Cole managed more in one half of football than David Di Michele and Diego Tristan had mustered together in the opening 45 minutes!
"I've only had three training sessions with the team, which is not ideal," revealed the West Ham striker. "I would have liked to have had a full week's training and missed this game, and then after another week I would be fully involved next week.
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"It was kind of a rush getting me back fit. I'm four weeks ahead of schedule."
By the end of the match it showed. Cole hunched over, gasping for air, but it had been a tough assignment for a player returning from an eight-game absence.
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"It felt very hard," he confessed. "When I came on we only had 10 men. I've been out for a lot of matches and it was a hard ask to go up front alone."
Cole has proved both last season and this, that he is very capable of doing that job, and even at 80 per cent fitness he showed the class and presence that have made him one of the favourites for this season's Hammer of the Year crown.
At the beginning of the season, the former Chelsea man was not even first choice, now he has played twice for Fabio Capello's England and has a great chance of earning a seat on the flight to South Africa for next summer's World Cup.
It has been a remarkable ascendancy. "It has been my best season," said Cole. "To get the England call-up was a massive honour for me. I've been working hard for West Ham, and now I just have to push on and get even better.
"I need to have games under my belt, keep fit and obviously anything is possible for your country.
"West Ham is first and foremost on my list though and I'm looking for the team to do good and great things now."
One great thing which is now out of their reach was the prospect of a place in next season's Europa League. They have missed out to either Fulham or Spurs, and just how much Cole's absence affected their chances is open to conjecture.
Being out was certainly a frustrating time for the 11-goal marksman though: "It has been a massive disappointment," said Cole. "Just when I thought I was finding my feet - scoring goals, doing well for the team and getting England call-ups, I got injured.
"It was a massive set-back and it was as if I had to start again, but hopefully I can progress from that, take the experience of being injured, because I'm not usually injured, and try to get back to my form next season and push on for the team."
There was one moment at Goodison when Cole almost brought the Hammers level. Mark Noble launched a long ball over the top and the sprinting Cole was on it in a flash, controlling a trick ball and only being denied by the grabbing hands of Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Having come through the match unscathed, it can do him nothing but good in preparation for Sunday's final game of the season against Middlesbrough, despite Saturday's match not going according to the script.
"The plan was to introduce me slowly, bring me on late," confirmed Cole. "But it wasn't going to be that kind of game after 'Tonks' got sent off, it was always going to be uphill from there.
"A lot got asked of me from the manager, and obviously I'm not 100 per cent fit."
Cole is the man that manager Gianfranco Zola can trust though, and he even sacrificed Di Michele and Tristan at half time to bring on the big man.
"It was very positive to see Carlton Cole back," confirmed the West Ham boss. "He wasn't at his best, but he made an impact. He gave a great ball to Luis Boa Morte and it was important for us to have had him back today."
It is important for West Ham that he is back to stay. He should start on Sunday and then it is a question of getting ready for next term and finally helping the Hammers into those coveted European places.