Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Philosophical In Defeat

Carlton Cole has been speaking about the fine line between victory and defeat on the official site today, and pays tribute to the performance of the team as a whole in last weekend's reverse at Bolton Wanderers. The England forward is in the squad that heads off for Middlesbrough today and is determined to get a positive result in tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round replay on Teesside. Cole was a surprise inclusion at the Reebok Stadium after struggling with a knock all week, but he led the line with strength and skill and came close to scoring on several occasions; including two headers cleared off the line by Matthew Taylor and goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.

The frontman admitted he and his team-mates were gutted to come away with nothing from a game that they dominated for long periods. "You could tell that the boys had come off the field really disappointed. As was said in the dressing room, it was the finer details in the first half that cost us," he said. "We started really fast [erm, we were two goals down within the first 15 minutes, Carlton], pressurised well [apart from those two goals in the first 15 minutes], but the fine details between the lines were the difference [details like TWO PESKY GOALS IN THE FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES]. When you are involved in a game like that, you know what they are all about and they just got a few decisions their way as well which didn't help.

"I'm not really bothered about my performance. I'd rather be talking about the team as a whole. I felt we knocked it around well and got about them but sometimes you just don't get the luck or the rub of the green. I had a chance cleared off the line, David Di Michele had two good opportunities and Nobes had an opportunity to shoot. These are the details that we need to brush up on because they win games. Even when we went 2-0 down everyone involved knew we could still get a good result. We still felt we weren't out of the game, which you sometimes feel against other Premier League sides at 2-0. Scotty got his goal and we felt it was our chance to progress and get an extra goal or two but it just didn't happen for us the way it should have."

So two single-goal defeats ten months and one manager apart, and the devil in the detail, as revealed by the majesty of the Guardian Chalk Board, illustrates the transformation in United's footballing philosophy as preached by Messrs Zola and Clarke. Defeat is still defeat, of course, but there are ways and means of accepting your demise that ameliorates the pain for the travelling faithful. Almost 70 more attempted passes and nine additional attempts on goal compared to the previous visit to the Reebok under Alan Curbishley, underscores some of Cole's sentiment and speaks volumes to the positivity sweeping through the ranks.

Now on to the FA Cup where an equaliser seven minutes from time at Upton Park 10 days ago gave West Ham United a second bite of the cherry and a fifth round replay against Middlesbrough for the right to battle Everton in the quarter-finals. Amid suggestions that the romance of the cup must be subjugated to the pragmatism of the Premier League, both Gianfranco Zola and Gareth Southgate have been at pains to insist that, after an Herita Ilunga-rescued 1-1 draw, this is not one game too many.

Zola insists those who devalue the FA Cup make 'no sense' - and he is determined to capture the trophy as a manager. Having won it twice as a player with Chelsea, including one Wembley victory over Middlesbrough, the Italian puts a huge importance on the trophy. "It means a lot, an awful lot," he said. "It is a fantastic competition and some say it is losing something but that makes no sense. We have to make sure everyone values it very much. It's unique. If I can win this as a manager then that would be great. I always say it was one of my best achievements to win it as a player."

Middlesbrough have gone 14 games without a victory in the league and are intent on climbing from the lowly station of second from bottom. They will be without Didier Digard, possibly for the remainder of the season, while Marlon King is cup-tied having already played in this competition for Hull. The good news for Southgate is harder to ascertain, although Andrew Taylor is fit to return following an ankle injury. The Hammers need less recourse to positive news from the treatment room. James Collins is ruled out for the next month due to a hamstring injury but James Tomkins is on standby to deputise and Lucas Neill returns from suspension and could replace Jonathan Spector.

Finally, the Mirror reports West Ham almost sold rising star Jack Collison to League One Peterborough for just £300,000. The article insists the clubs agreed a fee back in August when Alan Curbishley was still Hammers manager but Posh boss Darren Ferguson was frustrated when the Upton Park board changed their minds. Gianfranco Zola is quoted as saying: "Jack has been a real surprise for me - not just because of his qualities but also his personality. He will be a very important player in this country and for West Ham for a long time."

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