Zola hails his best ever West Ham win

West Ham United 2 Sunderland 0 WHEN CARLTON COLE limped off at Wembley last week, many thought that West Ham s season, like that of the big centre forward, was all over bar the shouting, writes DAVE EVANS. A glance at the line-up for Saturday s clash wit

West Ham United 2 Sunderland 0

WHEN CARLTON COLE limped off at Wembley last week, many thought that West Ham's season, like that of the big centre forward, was all over bar the shouting, writes DAVE EVANS.

A glance at the line-up for Saturday's clash with Sunderland seemed to confirm that. As well as Cole's absence, there was no Jack Collison, no Scott Parker and no Radoslav Kovac. There was Lucas Neill in central midfield and a youngster making his first start on the left wing.

But, by the end, beaming manager Gianfranco Zola was quick to acclaim a magnificent three points after a comfortable 2-0 win.

"Considering all the difficulties we had before this match, I can say that this has been the best victory of all for me because it was totally unexpected," explained the little Italian after the game.

Mind you, Sunderland did not provide the sort of opposition that tested a makeshift Hammers side. Manager Ricky Sbragia said afterwards that his team had given him everything, but if that is everything, then you have to worry for their Premier League survival - they were awful and didn't seem to care that much about it.

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West Ham started brightly with Junior Stanislas in particular looking lively on the left, but it was Sunderland who carved out the most promising half chances in the opening 30 minutes.

James Tomkins did head Mark Noble's corner past the post after two minutes, but then Steed Malbranque twice shot wide with Robert Green struggling to gather the ball, while Djibril Cisse put in Grant Leadbitter for a stinging shot which was expertly blocked by the West Ham keeper.

To that point, Hammers' strikeforce of David Di Michele and Diego Tristan had failed to get a foothold in the game, but when Neill's pass was deflected into the path of Di Michele, the Italian came to life and thumped a shot inches wide of the mark.

His flicks and passes don't always come off - in fact they usually don't - but it doesn't seem to affect his confidence and Di Michele then put in Herita Ilunga with a lobbed pass, only for the full back to fail to make proper contact.

Cisse forced a somewhat theatrical save from Green with a shot that was always going wide, but from the resulting corner it was West Ham who took the lead.

Green grabbed it and quickly threw out to Luis Boa Morte, the winger slipped it to Tristan on the right touchline and then continued his run, and when the Spaniard passed it on to Di Michele, his flick put the Portuguese away in the box.

It is never simple for Boa Morte of course, as his one goal in 73 appearances in claret and blue illustrate. He waited too long to shoot, but then squared it across the area where Stanislas was there to thump in from close range.

Zola was full of praise for the former international winger: "Boa Morte was unbelievable," he insisted. "He was running, chasing, putting quality into the side and when you have these conditions it is easy to do a good job."

Boa Morte has been a victim of the boo-boys in his time at the club, but whatever his failings, and there are many, he never fails to give 100 per cent, and some of his antics on the field always have their entertainment value.

Di Michele had another chance just before the break deflected wide, while Stanislas was denied the chance of a second by a last-ditch header after a fine cross by Noble, but West Ham fans must have expe-cted a fight-back from relegation-haunted Sunderland in the second half - it simply never came.

Phil Bardsley had a shot palmed wide by Green on 49 minutes, but for all intents and purposes the game was over four minutes later as West Ham added a second.

Tristan won a corner with a shot that was pushed wide by keeper Craig Gordon, and when Noble swung over the kick, Tomkins got in front of Anton Ferd-inand to head firmly tow-ards the corner and despite Gordon getting a hand to it, the ball trickled in.

Ferdinand had received an excellent reception from the Upton Park crowd before the start, but the mistakes that were always in his game at West Ham, were apparent once again and his manager blamed him for the goal.

Matty Upson, supreme alongside Tomkins at the back on his return from injury, almost added to the tally with a header that forced a fine save from Gordon and Tomkins nearly grabbed a second from the resulting corner, only for his effort to be parried by the goalkeeper

Jonathan Spector's injury held the game up for a considerable period, and when the match finally restarted with Tomkins moving to full back and James Collins coming on in the centre of defence, West Ham looked even more solid.

Bardsley forced another save from the excellent Green, but it was the arrival of Kieron Dyer that enlivened the final 10 minutes.

Boa Morte's shot deflected into Dyer's path in the box, only for him to hit the side-netting, while he also latched on to a pass from Tristan, beat his man, but took the ball too close to the goalkeeper.

It was his sharpness, his time on the ball and his pace that would have excited the West Ham fans and at this time of the season, it is like signing another international player.

Tristan hit the roof of the net after some good work, while at the other end Cisse slipped away from his man for almost the first time all afternoon, only to blast miles over the bar.

It summed up Sunderland's day really. Looking at the West Ham line-up they must have thought that they had a great chance of taking the three points, but it was the Hammers who simply wanted it more.

West Ham have had to learn how to play without Dean Ashton for most of the season and still flourished, perhaps now they can do the same without Cole. If they can, then Europe beckons.

West Ham: Green, Spector (Collins 72), Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Neill, Noble, Boa Morte, Stanislas (Lopez 90), Di Michele (Dyer 81), Tristan. Unused subs: Lastuvka, Savio, Sears, Payne.

Attendance: 34,761. Referee: Mike Jones.