Cole-less fire warms but can’t burn Blues

West Ham Utd 1 Everton 2 THERE ARE some decisions that are difficult to fathom. Why Emile Heskey is chosen for England; why those terrible twins continue to offend our ears in The X-Factor; why Radoslav Kovac is at West Ham, writes DAVE EVANS. Well add to

West Ham Utd 1 Everton 2

THERE ARE some decisions that are difficult to fathom. Why Emile Heskey is chosen for England; why those terrible twins continue to offend our ears in The X-Factor; why Radoslav Kovac is at West Ham, writes DAVE EVANS.

Well add to that another puzzling decision. How can West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola prefer Luis Jimenez to Alessandro Diamanti?

"When Diamanti came on he made a very good impact, just like Zavon Hines the other day," admitted Zola after Sunday's disappointing defeat. "I know Diamanti, when he comes in, he is effective, and that is why right now I prefer him to start later."


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Interesting thinking, but when you are already missing your best player in Carlton Cole, it was imperative that the Hammers had another match winner on the field from the start, and in Diamanti they definitely possess one.

Too often in the first half, West Ham played ball up to the willing, but limited Guillermo Franco or Zavon Hines, and saw Joseph Yobo and Sylvain Distin gobble the balls up and clear with comparative ease.

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It wasn't that they didn't create chances though. As early as the eighth minute, the surprisingly adventurous Scott Parker sprayed the ball out to Julien Faubert on the right and his low cross was almost turned in by Franco.

Parker went close himself on 20 minutes when he cleverly turned Yobo before shooting from a tight angle, before the midfielder stormed forward and almost put in the sprinting Hines, only for Yobo to make a timely interception to deny him.

"I think we started the game very well today," insisted Zola. "In the first 10 minutes we had a couple of chances, but couldn't convert them. They had only one shot in the first half, so what can you do?"

That shot came on 27 minutes and had an air of inevitability about it. Matty Upson failed to clear properly and after Tim Cahill had got involved just outside the box, the ball fell for Louis Saha to strike sweetly into the corner of the net, giving Robert Green no chance.

It was Saha's fifth goal in three games against the Hammers and Everton boss David Moyes admitted afterwards that the striker was only playing because of his superb record against West Ham.

Saha headed inches wide from Dan Gosling's cross in the last real action of the first half, and Zola responded straight after the break by introducing Junior Stanislas for Jack Collison.

The impressive Manuel Da Costa launched a long ball into the penalty area where Jimenez was crowded out by Yobo and Distin as he looked to get a shot in, but that was his last and only real contribution to the match as he was replaced a minute later.

The Chilean's departure was the signal for the arrival of Diamanti and from almost the moment he stepped on to the Upton Park turf, there was a new excitement among the fans.

The Italian has a left foot like a magic wand and where before Everton's big, strong defence had looked almost impregnable, now they were beginning to show cracks.

Diamanti's short corner saw Parker poke the ball wide of the mark, before another Parker shot fell invitingly for Stanislas, only for the winger to fire past the post.

But just as West Ham were beginning to build up a head of steam, Everton grabbed a second, equally unlikely goal.

A tussle just outside the box seemed to see Cahill push over Valon Behr-ami, but the referee waved play on and Yakubu slipped the ball to Gosling on the right.

His first shot was saved by Green, but the ball came stra-ight back out to the Everton youngster and this time he made no mistake.

It was a cruel blow to West Ham who were just beginning to find some rhythm, but within a minute they were back in the game and it was Diamanti at the heart of it.

The midfielder stroked a superb left-foot pass forward which was met by the sprinting Stanislas. The youngster lifted the ball over Tim Howard towards goal, but it didn't seem to have enough on it, before full back Tony Hibbert inexplicably hooked it into his own net.

West Ham celebrated and then took complete charge of the game and it was difficult to see how they failed to even get a draw out of this match.

Diamanti beat his man on the right touchline before cutting inside and letting fly with a stunning shot that curled and dipped, but somehow flew over the bar.

Two minutes later Parker put Hines in the clear, but the youngster, who had been so cool on Wednesday night, lost his head and slipped his shot inches past the post. In the very next minute, Diamanti put him in again, but he could only screw a shot well wide under pressure.

Still West Ham came forward. Diamanti's free kick was acrobatically palmed away by Howard, and with eight minutes to go the Italian stormed down the middle only to poke his shot past the goalkeeper, but also past the post.

Everton had nothing to offer at the other end, but they defended resolutely, perhaps buoyed by their recent superb run at Upton Park.

As injury time arrived, the Hammers carved out one more chance. Diamanti's pinpoint pass picked out Parker on the right edge of the box and his first-time cross just evaded the touch of both Stanislas and Franco before Howard gleefully clung on to it.

"It is very difficult to comment after a game like that," said a disappointed Zola. "I don't know how many chances we had, but they had only two and that is a big question mark for me - how can we lose a game like that?"

The reason was fairly simple. Everton took their limited chances and the Hammers couldn't take their hatful of opportunities - even the one they scored was helped by an Everton defender!

Without Cole, West Ham are just not the same team. Franco tends to drop deeper, Hines is hugely helped by Cole's presence, and while Parker had one of his most attacking games, there is simply not the amount of goals from midfield to make up for the loss of the big striker.

"Carlton Cole is always a big player for us," admitted Zola. "What can we do? It is something that we have to cope with. The other day we did very well without him, today unfortunately we couldn't do the same."

What they could do is give themselves their best chance by playing Diamanti from the start. In 35 minutes on Sunday he caused Everton no end of problems and fired the rest of the team to greater heights.

Surely he could do that from the kick-off and give West Ham the sort of start they are crying out for.

This was a negative team selection and with Everton struggling and tired from a string of Premier and Europa League games, this was a huge opportunity missed.

Are West Ham in a false position? When a team looks so decimated because of the loss of one player, then probably not.

West Ham: Green, Faubert, Spector, Da Costa, Upson, Behrami, Parker, Collison (Stanislas h/t), Jimenez (Diamanti 56), Franco, Hines. Unused subs: Kurucz, Kovac, Noble, Tomkins, Daprela.

Att: 32,466. Referee: Alan Wiley (6).

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