Similar stories but Zola tells his so much better

WHEN Gianfranco Zola took over as West Ham manager back in August, he claimed that his big ambition for the season was for the club to do better than they did last term, writes DAVE EVANS. Well, after Sunday s last-day victory over Middlesbrough at Upton

WHEN Gianfranco Zola took over as West Ham manager back in August, he claimed that his big ambition for the season was for the club to do better than they did last term, writes DAVE EVANS.

Well, after Sunday's last-day victory over Middlesbrough at Upton Park he managed it - just.

But though in the end this season's efforts were almost a carbon copy of the last campaign, there is so much more enthusiasm about Zola's team compared to that of Alan Curbishley.

It seems to be a question of potential.


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Under Zola, players seem to have improved and positively blossomed; the youngsters have come through and made huge impacts on the first team; while there seems to be a plan and a structure in place that just wasn't apparent under Curb-ishley.

A look at the statistics of the season though suggests not much has changed from last year.

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West Ham finished 10th under Curbishley having reached that position in November of the 2007-08 campaign and staying there right through to the end.

Zola's team had plenty of hiccups along the way and even flirted with the relegation positions at one point, but after draws at Liverpool and Chelsea followed by a 4-1 thumping of Portsmouth at Fratton Park, West Ham had lift off.

In the end they just missed out on a European place, but the manager still believes the campaign has been a success.

"I think we did what we set out to do," insisted Zola after Sunday's 2-1 win. "Last season we finished 10th and this season we came ninth with a team on the same level as us, we were just ninth on goal difference.

"I think we achieved what we wanted to achieve."

Attacking football was the order of the day under Zola, but in reality they scored exactly the same amount of goals - 42 - as they did last year, though that may have more to do with the strikers they were forced to play for much of the campaign.

Zola's team won one more game this season than last, but lost exactly the same amount, while West Ham actually lost more home games this term than they did away.

"There was a moment in the season when we obviously were hoping for something more and we tried very hard," said Zola.

"Considering all the circumstances, I think we were very unlucky not to achieve Europe. We were only two points behind the seventh place and I think with slightly different circumstances, maybe we could have been easily seventh.

"But that's football, I'm really happy with the team and it has been a great season."

That is the overriding feeling of West Ham fans too. This season they managed to overhaul Blackburn, Portsmouth and Manchester City, while Fulham and most annoyingly Spurs have leapfrogged them.

Zola can't wait for the challenge of next season: "I am very much looking forward to it," he said. "I love the possibility to make a few adjustments in the squad and start with this team from the beginning, I'm sure it will make a big difference for us.

"I'm really looking forward to the next season."

With Dean Ashton hopefully back, Kieron Dyer and Scott Parker fit and raring to go and with some new strikers to freshen things up, so are the West Ham faithful.

Roll on August!

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