Hammers battle to vital victory for the boss
West Ham United 2 Birmingham City 0 Who said nice guys finish last? On the eve of West Ham s crucial Premier League clash with his former club Birmingham City, the Hammers new co-owner David Sullivan questioned whether his manager Gianfranco Zola was to
West Ham United 2 – 0 Birmingham City
Who said nice guys finish last? On the eve of West Ham’s crucial Premier League clash with his former club Birmingham City, the Hammers new co-owner David Sullivan questioned whether his manager Gianfranco Zola was “too nice” for the cut and thrust of top flight management, writes BEN WELCH.
If Wednesday’s night 2-0 win at Upton Park is anything to go by, the answer to this doubt is resoundingly “No”.
And perhaps, more importantly, the Hammers have shown they are too good to go down with a win against a team in the top half of the table.
Only the most generous of observers would describe West Ham’s performance against Alex McLeish’s side as inspirational, but it was certainly effective and as the business end of the season closes in, that’s all that matters.
A wickedly curling free-kick from Alessandro Diamanti gave the home side the lead on the cusp of half-time and Carlton Cole sealed the three points with his first goal since returning from injury.
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As Diamanti’s left foot rocket tore into the net the relief in the stands was palpable. The impetuous Italian set about making a point to his paymasters watching in the stands, who had dared to question the credentials of his beloved manager.
He hoisted Zola up in the air as a mob of claret and blue besieged the Hammers boss.
“I appreciate that (their public show of support), I appreciate the goal even more,” said the diminutive Italian.
“It’s important that the crowd, that everybody, sees there is a good working group here and we have a unity.” Note to Sullivan and Gold: Don’t break up a happy home.
“It is important that there is a good connection between the staff, myself and the players. It means that we are all going in the same direction. It is vital to do well.”
But the Upton Park chief insisted this was not the players showing their loyalty in a simmering civil war.
“No, no, no, it has nothing to with that. It was just a celebration because we are going through a difficult moment and we want to stick together,” Zola reassured the club’s chairmen.
“Everybody wants the team to succeed. We are in a position we don’t like and we want to do everything we can to improve it.”
Video replays showed Diamanti expressing his delight with screams support for Zola, but what was the man from Tuscany saying?
“I love you, I love you,” joked Zola. “No, he was saying it was a goal for the team, for me and for my staff.”
The former Chelsea magician may jest, but the pictures speak for themselves. If the Hammers are going to stave off relegation, it’s because this band of brothers from east London want to succeed for their General, not because they’re motivated by rash statements from their media courting employers.
Temperatures along the corridors of Upton Park have may have reached boiling this week, but the bubbling passion bouncing off the walls did not transfer on to the frosty surface.
Loose passes, heavy first touches and aimless running plagued the first half. The Hammers may have dominated the territorial battle, largely due to the visitor’s incompetence, but the prospect of Championship football and financial “Armageddon” looked to have infected West Ham’s defence with anxiety and self doubt.
James Tomkins twice miscued. Diamanti escaped punishment for a suicidal pass across this own box. Robert Green clawed two crosses away from imminent danger. Cameron Jerome shot wide. Green tipped over from Kevin Philips. The Hammers were wobbling.
“You could see in the first half we started very well, but as soon as they created a half opportunity we started to get a bit nervous – us, the crowd, everybody,” admitted Zola.
But just went it looked as though the home wide were about to crack under the strain, Diamanti transformed from Mr Hyde into Dr Jekyll.
Having previously bent back the fingers of Joe Hart with a stinging left foot thunderbolt, he produced a moment of defining brilliance on the cusp of half-time.
Scott Parker was cut down by an industrial strength challenge from Scott Dann on the edge of the box.
Diamanti lined the ball up. Upton Park held its breath. The Italian brought them out of their seats.
Detonating the dynamite in his left boot he wreaked devastation in the City goal. A viciously bending shot ripped into the top corner of the net, with Hart merely diving out of obligation to his job description.
Led by the impassioned goalscorer a throng of players drowned Zola, who later revealed he had been competing with this countryman in a free-kick face-off at training this week.
Diamanti’s first half performance summed him up – mad, frustrating, unpredictable, and entertaining.
This is a man who clearly revels in the theatre of football. A man who would have been at home spilling blood in the Colosseum.
After Birmingham’s first half performance, you wonder if the visitor’s dressing room came close to witnessing bloodshed during the interval.
The Hammers were by no means impressive in the first half, they were here for the taking, but after a reinvigorated start to the second half, the Blues flight back soon died without a whimper.
With just over 20 minutes left Carlton Cole, underlined his importance to the team.
Birmingham’s defence were nothing more than observers as their sea of defenders were brushed to one side by West Ham’s returning predator.
Valon Behrami held the ball up, City stood off, and the Swiss international laid the ball into the path of Julien Faubert hurtling past him on the overlap.
The Frenchman laid a meal on for Cole, who gobbled it up, muscling his marker to one side and heading the ball past Hart.
After the second goal went in the match descended into a midfield scrap. Tackles aplenty, with technical aptitude AWOL.
With four minutes to play Parker made way for Mark Noble to a standing ovation and rightly so.
The midfield scrapper did the invisible, unfashionable work. Pulling his leash taut, he subdued his urge to go charging up field, whilst quietly, but efficiently sitting deep and throwing a protective cloak over the back four.
The final whistle went and the cash-strapped Hammers had climbed out of the bottom three with their first win in 2010.
“It will be a big boost for every the whole atmosphere around the club,” hailed Zola.
Three points in the bank and massive point made to the club’s hierarchy, but as much as the press tried to draw the Sardinian into a war of words with The Davids’ he refused.
As he left the press room he jokingly warned one journalist, “You watch it you, I’ll send my boys round.”
Gold and Sullivan should pay heed to this caution – axe Zola and face the wrath of his boys – the West Ham players.
West Ham: Green, Faubert, Upson, Tomkins, Ilunga (Spector, 46), Behrami, Parker (Noble, 86), Kovac, Diamanti, Mido (Ilan, 66), Cole. Subs: Stech, da Costa, Collison, Stanislas.