Zola begins to feel the pressure of task ahead

GIANFRANCO ZOLA took his seat for the post-match press conference at the Stadium of Light and buried his head in his hands, writes DAVE EVANS. There he sat for something like 20 seconds while the congregation of journalists waited for him to gather his co

GIANFRANCO ZOLA took his seat for the post-match press conference at the Stadium of Light and buried his head in his hands, writes DAVE EVANS.

There he sat for something like 20 seconds while the congregation of journalists waited for him to gather his composure - life is certainly tough as a struggling Premier League manager.

"We didn't play in the second half," he said. "We didn't play, otherwise the game would've finished with a different result. It could have been much more than two goals and I'm upset about that."

Upset is not exactly the word - from the look on his face, distraught might have been more apposite.


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The joy of last week's second half display against Arsenal and the satisfaction of Saturday's first-half lead against Sunderland had been ripped apart in 45 minutes of abject surrender as the 10-men of the Black Cats swarmed all over the Hammers and deservedly grabbed a leveller.

"Their determination and desire was better than ours," Zola admitted.

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"They just overcame the man short they had and the story was in that. We lost control of the game from a match that was totally ours and we let them in and left a door open for them and you can't do that in this league."

Of course, Zola has been through all these problems before. Last season he made an inauspicious start to his managerial career and after his first 10 games in charge he had amassed just 11 points, courtesy of three wins and two draws.

This time it is more serious, but he has more time to turn things around.

West Ham have accrued a measly seven points from their 10 games with just one win and four draws to show for their efforts, and it is the throwing away of precious points on Saturday that so infuriated Zola.

"It's not possible for the team to play like it did in the first half and then let them in as we did," said the boss.

"That's something that we have to correct because it's keeping us in a position in which we don't deserve to be. It's all down to these problems.

"It's a pity to see a team play like we did in the first half and not get a victory."

So are West Ham in a false position? They say that results never lie and in stark reality the Hammers have just not played well enough to warrant a higher placing, but there has been mitigating circumstances.

Taken in isolation, points at home to the Gunners and away at eighth-placed Sunderland illustrate that the Hammers may well have turned the corner.

Coupled with that, the fixture computer has not been kind to West Ham.

Having missed their first home game of the season because of Aston Villa's involvement in the Europa League, they have found themselves up against Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool at Upton Park, with only Fulham providing a fixture that they would be confident about winning at home.

"I'm not anxious about the situation," insisted a frankly anxious-looking manager. "I am upset as it is not the first time that we have the game in control and then leave the points behind.

"That upsets me because it means that the team is in a position that we do not deserve for the way we played. It is something that we will come to terms with before the situation gets worse."

Last season it did get worse for Zola after those initial 10 matches. The next four up to Boxing Day saw them grab just two points from four games and things looked bleak for West Ham going into Christmas.

The Boxing Day stuffing of Portsmouth at Fratton Park turned things around last season, but Zola needs an earlier revival this time to renew the confidence in his struggling team.

November is certainly the month to do just that. West Ham face Aston Villa at home tonight (Wednesday) and further home games against Everton and Burnley, alongside a trip to Hull City - all games where they will be hopeful of picking up points.

So does Zola feel under pressure at the moment? Is he reconsidering his management style?

"Don't worry," he said. "If I have to look into my management, I will. I do it every single day.

"Maybe I will have to change my talking, but don't worry, I am hard enough with the team when I have to be."

And too hard on himself as well. There are just 10 games gone this season and already the knives are out for Zola and his team.

Judge the team at the end of November and if they are still stuck in the relegation zone, then it may well be the time for the boss to hold his head in hands.

Until then, Zola should hold his head up high, and the West Ham fans must give him their strongest possible backing.

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