It’s tough at the bottom!

PUNDITS talk about the pressure of pushing for the Premier League title, but that is like a walk in the park compared to the battle to avoid the drop – just ask Gianfranco Zola, writes DAVE EVANS. The little Italian looked like the weight of the world was

PUNDITS talk about the pressure of pushing for the Premier League title, but that is like a walk in the park compared to the battle to avoid the drop - just ask Gianfranco Zola, writes DAVE EVANS.

The little Italian looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders at Upton Park on Sunday, and it is little wonder that the whispers have already started about him walking away from the club.

The problem with brilliant former stars like Zola is that when they become managers is that is seems so few players can live up to their standards.

It is all very well having a formation that he would have thrived in, or that the Chelsea superstars revel in, but it seems clear that the current crop of West Ham players are struggling to cope with it.


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The 4-3-3 system may work on the training ground, but when you play with only one up front, the midfielders have got to get up and support him and Luis Jimenez, Alessandro Diamanti, Scott Parker and Mark Noble are simply not able to do it in match conditions.

It is West Ham's worst start since Alan Pardew's boys in 2006 and with many of the squad away on international duty until towards the end of next week, he will have little time to work with them before the tough trip to Stoke City.

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The manager is determined to stay positive amid the adversity though, despite the Hammers sitting second from bottom in the table with only Portsmouth belowthem.

"The players are trying very hard," he insisted after Sunday's 2-2 draw with Fulham in the District Line derby.

"I don't think it is a matter of commitment, that is fantastic from everybody, they just need to improve their focus."

Zola has certainly changed his managerial persona in the last couple of weeks. Last term he would have rather chewed off his own arm than criticise his players in public, this time round he has clearly gauged the supporters' mood and felt the need to vilify his squad.

He described the 3-1 defeat at Manchester City as the worst of the season, but thought this game was not as bad.

"It wasn't the worst day," he insisted. "The first half, quality wise, was okay, we just don't have consistency to our game which will give us wins instead of draws and defeats."

Asked if he was prepared to drop the players that are not performing, the manager stressed that he was, but there seemed to be little conviction behind his statement, suggesting that he still believes that the players in his starting line-up are the ones he thinks can get them out of trouble.

"I am responsible for 20 players, not just one," he said. "They have to keep up a high standard and if they don't, they know there would be someone else who plays instead.

"It is disappointing because the players are trying very hard, they are trying to play football the way they want. This crowd wants them to play football and play the right way, and we are trying to do that."

Last season, Zola turned things round with a run of just two defeats in 13 league games from Boxing Day until the beginning of April.

There is no need to panic just yet, but whereas last term the boss was always confident that he would turn it around, this time though, he seems unsure of how to do it.

Changing the formation might help the process, but with confidence low in the camp, even that may not be enough to alleviate the slide towards a relegation dogfight.

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