No happy anniversary as Zola’s boys struggle

Wigan Ath 1 West Ham Utd 0 IT HAS been a year since Gianfranco Zola took the reins at Upton Park, but when you witness stale performances like this one at Wigan on Saturday, it is difficult to see the progress that has been made by the little Italian. Des

Wigan Ath 1 West Ham Utd 0

IT HAS been a year since Gianfranco Zola took the reins at Upton Park, but when you witness stale performances like this one at Wigan on Saturday, it is difficult to see the progress that has been made by the little Italian.

Despite the horrendous problems encountered off the field, there is little doubt that things have improved on the pitch under Zola's tutelage. But while a year ago West Ham were naively losing to West Brom at the Hawthorns, this time it was a lacklustre Hammers side who surrendered tamely to the Latics.

West Ham changed to a 4-4-2 system, for the first time this season, but without the flair of injured pair Luis Jimenez and Kieron Dyer, there was no spark and no sense of urgency to get amongst a Wigan side who had lost their last four games on the trot.

On a day when the Hammers needed their top players to shine, they simply didn't turn up to the party. Carlton Cole looked tired almost from the start and was expertly shackled by Titus Bramble, while the pairing of Scott Parker with Radoslav Kovac in the middle of the park lacked inventiveness and smacked of negativity.

There were exceptions to that however. Youngster Zavon Hines made a splendid first Premier League start and this game could have been very different had the referee and linesman done their job as early as the sixth minute.

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Hines got away from his marker and was bearing down on goal when his legs were taken from behind by Maynor Figueroa right in front of the linesman.

The incident happened inches outside the box, so it was never going to be a penalty, but the officials waved away the appeals for a foul and what would have been at least a booking.

"They tell me he was touched," said Zola afterwards. "All I can say is that he has gone past his def-ender so there is no reason for him to go down."

Hines caused plenty of problems with his pace and trickery all afternoon, while Mark Noble picked out Cole with a delightful ball that the striker could only poke straight at Chris Kirk-land, and Junior Stanislas had a shot from the edge of the box which was deflected inches wide for a corner.

Hines almost embarrassed Kirk-land when he challenged the keeper for a short Bramble back pass, only for the ball to ricochet inches wide, but at the other end, Wigan were also carving out long-range chances.

Jordi Gomez had two 25-yarders palmed away by Robert Green, while the England goalkeeper had to do even better when Hugo Rodallega's shot deflected off Matty Upson and forced him to tip it over as he back-pedalled.

Cole had the ball in the Wigan net, but it was clear to almost everyone that referee Alan Wiley had already blown for half time, and Zola was pleased with the way the opening 45 minutes had gone.

"After the first half I think we deserved something from the match," he insisted. "I thought we were going to get more than a draw because of the way we were playing, but this is not the first time that we have started the second half at not the same level as the first."

It had been a similar story against Blackburn two weeks ago as the home side took the game by the scruff of the neck and Wigan were to do the same.

Jason Koumas put Rodallega away on 50 minutes only to be stopped in his tracks by a superb last-ditch tackle from James Tomkins, but six minutes later the home side made the breakthrough.

It had an element of luck. The ball just alluded the outstretched leg of Upson to allow Charles N'Zogbia to cross low and that was deflected invitingly into the path of Koumas. His shot was superbly saved by Green, but just as in the international against Croatia, the rebound fell invitingly, this time for Rodallega to poke it into the net.

"He made a great save, I thought it was brilliant," said Zola, "But I think in those moments you have to be very reactive, so I was expecting the others to be more reactive to the rebound."

While Hines showed his potential and Valon Behrami returned to the fold looking as fit as ever, there was another shining beacon in the Hammers ranks when new signing Alessandro Diamanti was given his chance on 63 minutes.

The livewire Italian almost instantly became a cult hero among the West Ham away followers and twice he came close to earning a deserved point.

First, on 70 minutes, he let fly with a superb curling free kick which came within a lick of paint of the post, then nine minutes later he grabbed the ball close the corner flag, looked up and curled a delightful shot that rattled against the far post.

West Ham huffed and puffed as they looked for that equaliser. Tomkins should have done better when he headed Noble's corner wide when completely unmarked, while Parker forced a fine save from Kirkland with a powerful drilled shot from the edge of the box.

Diamanti's clever dinked chip into the box almost allowed Parker to head home with four minutes left, but in the end it was Wigan who simply seemed to want this victory more than the Hammers and they could have added further goals on the break through Gomez and Jason Scotland.

"Obviously at this stage of the season, we cannot expect to be 100 per cent and at our best," said the boss.

"But in the vital moments we have to raise a little bit more our attention. This is the second game in my opinion that we lost from mistakes."

He was right, but some of the mistakes were surely in team selection and tactics and that is down to the management team. Zola went 4-4-2, but with a negative central midfield as well as an out of position Noble and an out of sorts Stanislas, it looked as ineffective as his 4-3-3 has been at times this season.

There were certainly plus points - Hines, Behrami and Diamanti, as well as a battling display by centre half Danny Gabbidon at left back - but it seems that there wasn't the urgency in the West Ham ranks that there should have been, as if they would have been happy with a point.

In the end they got none, and with Liverpool and Manchester City on the horizon, Zola may face as tough a time as he did at this point last year.

"The first year has been a long time," reflected Zola. "There have been good moments and there have been bad, especially at the beginning, but we have always kept our composure and I'm pleased for that.

"We are looking forward to improving the team still further."

On this display, that can't come too soon.

West Ham: Green, Faubert, Gabbidon, Tomkins, Upson, Noble (Nouble 87), Parker, Kovac (Behrami 63), Stanislas (Diamanti 63, Hines, Cole. Unused subs: Kurucz, Spector, Da Costa, Payne.

Att: 17,142. Referee: Alan Wiley (6).