Zola's cup dream fades and dies at The Riverside

Middlesbrough 2 West Ham United 0 WEST HAM crashed out of the FA Cup with a whimper at Middlesbrough on Wednesday night as for the second game running, two early goals simply gave the Hammers too much to do, writes DAVE EVANS. The big difference between

Middlesbrough 2 West Ham United 0

WEST HAM crashed out of the FA Cup with a whimper at Middlesbrough on Wednesday night as for the second game running, two early goals simply gave the Hammers too much to do, writes DAVE EVANS.

The big difference between Saturday's clash at Bolton and this game though was that after going 2-0 down, the Hammers never really looked like hitting back as poor passing and indecision in the final third of the field, have Boro a fairly easy night.

Gianfranco Zola had drafted in Freddie Sears and Radoslav Kovac in place of the out of sorts David Di Michele and Jack Collison, but neither made much of an impression in a game where West Ham simply failed to hit top gear.

There were just five minutes gone when Boro grabbed the lead and the similarity between this goal and the first at Bolton were startlingly apparent.

This time it was Kovac who committed the foul on the edge of the box, and though Robert Green was slightly better positioned for Stewart Downing's free kick, this effort was a lot better than Matt Taylor's had been on Saturday and dipped over the wall before clipping the underside of the bar and flying into the top corner.

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West Ham looked nervous and uncertain and after Julio Arca had forced a save from Green, Matty Upson inexplicably gave the ball to Downing after a terrible crossfield pass, and the Boro winger had drilled a shot inches wide with Green well beaten.

On 20 minutes, Middlesbrough stretched their lead. Gary O'Neil's deep cross towards Jeremie Aliadiere, was acrobatically cut out by James Tomkins, but when the ball fell to the edge of the box, Tuncay was on hand to volley past Green and into the corner.

At the other end, Carlton Cole was getting little change from the tight, physical marking of Robert Huth, while Sears looked like a little boy lost for much of his 57 minutes on the field.

Valon Behrami and Mark Noble both struggled to make an impression and it was largely left to Scott Parker to engineer some sort of comeback.

West Ham's first real chance came on 23 minutes when Herita Ilunga - who had perhaps his worst game in a West Ham shirt - managed to get past a defender and pull the ball back into the box.

The ball came out to Kovac on the edge of the box and his firm shot through a crowd of players was well held by Brad Jones.

Lucas Neill's cross was nodded down by Cole to Sears who fired wide with his left foot, when he perhaps should have had a go with his right, but it was still Boro who were looking the more likely and Green was forced to save at the feet of O'Neil after a terrible error by Ilunga, while Tuncay blasted over the top after being expertly set-up by Downing.

West Ham fans were hoping for something better after the break, but they were greeted with more of the same.

Aliadiere saw a shot deflected wide by Tomkins after a good run by Justin Hoyte, and West Ham were going nowhere fast before Zola threw on Di Michele and Collison for the ineffective Noble and Sears.

On the hour, West Ham almost made the breakthrough. A good passing move ended with Di Michele threading a ball through to Parker, but his shot clipped the post and went wide when he really should have hit the target from eight yards out.

Perhaps that would be the signal for a West Ham onslaught - unfortunately it never happened.

Aliadiere was denied by a superb block by Green after being put through by O'Neil, while O'Neil then volleyed straight at the goalkeeper as Boro looked to make the game safe.

They needn't have worried. Diego Tristan's introduction for the tiring Kovac added nothing to the attacking potency, and their only other chance came on 76 minutes when Parker put a ball into Di Michele and the Italian shot tamely straight at Jones.

Tuncay saw another shot deflected inches wide by Upson's thigh and that was about it really as Middlesbrough played out the remaining minutes with comparative ease.

It's five games without a win now for West Ham and they have only scored two goals in all that time. The panic hasn't set in yet, but a couple more games like this and any hopes of that place in Europe will have gone out of the window.

No FA Cup glory this season for the Hammers and for many of their fans making their long way back from the north east, the campaign is already over.

West Ham: Green 7, Neill 6, Ilunga 5, Upson 6, Tomkins 6, Behrami 5, Noble 5 (Collison 57, 6), Kovac 6 (Tristan 69, 5), Parker 8*, Sears 5 (Di Michele 57, 5), Cole 6.

Attendance: 15,602. Referee: Steve Bennett.

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