Friday, 20 February 2009

Rising To The Challenge

Gianfranco Zola is all too aware of the challenge posed by Bolton Wanderers on Saturday but is confident his West Ham United side can rise to the occasion. "We know what kind of team they are," stated the Sardinian. "We know they are very physical and we need to find other solutions to get round their physical aspects. We've been working and we will try and surprise them if we can." Zola was just four games into his reign as manager when Gary Megson's men won 3-1 at the Boleyn Ground in October, but the Hammers have evolved as a team since then and go into the match on a lengthy undefeated away run that stretches back to 29 October - just over three weeks since that reverse fixture in east London. United currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League table, with 33 points from 25 matches. A victory could lift the Hammers above Wigan Athletic into seventh position should the Latics fail to win at Middlesbrough this weekend.

Speaking on the official site, the Italian said: "It's going to be a tough match. They are a tough team to play against and this occasion may be a little tougher. But we are going there to do a job and to get the three points that will be vital for us. We will give them all of the respect but we will play our game and try to win. We have quite a good record away from home so it's an opportunity for us to extend our record away from home in a tough match. It's a very important test for me."

West Ham may have to do without Carlton Cole, who had to leave the field against Middlesbrough with a bruised ankle. The Hammers' leading scorer this season has been hard at work at Chadwell Heath, although the game may have come too soon for him. "Carlton Cole, is making very good progress but we don't know if he's going to be available for this match or the match against Middlesbrough," admitted Zola. "He is working very hard and is getting better. Luis Boa Morte is going to be out for two or three weeks due to a groin problem and Lucas Neill is suspended. Apart from that everyone else is available"

If the England international does not recover sufficiently in time for the trip to the north-west, then Zola has faith in the rest of his players, with James Tomkins and Valon Behrami fit again and January recruits Savio and Radoslav Kovac itching for their first starts. "We have enough without Carlton. This team has been doing well because of Carlton but also because of the other players. They have all been very good and I'm sure if Carlton cannot make it, the rest of the team will give an extra bit and we will make sure we will do the job."

Diego Tristan insists he is ready to answer West Ham's striker crisis and shoulder the goalscoring burden in the absence of Cole. The former Deportivo La Coruna forward has vowed to pick up the slack and become the club's new target man. The 33-year-old Andalusian has yet to start a first-team game for the Hammers, but seems certain to be handed a chance after replacing Cole against Boro last weekend. "I have not played much up to this moment, but I hope that now I can play - I'm totally convinced of my abilities," he said. "I have always played [in my career] and it's not something you forget. I'm getting used to being a part of the team and to English football, which is very quick and played at tremendous speed. It is difficult for technical players because the referees never blow the whistle. But I hope I can show my abilities."

Meanwhile, Robert Green insists Gianfranco Zola is the man to bring stability to West Ham. The keeper has served under three bosses since moving from Norwich three years ago and wants the Hammers to shake off their ‘crisis-club’ tag. Reports of boardroom instability from the Carlos Tevez transfer saga has seen the Eastenders lurch from crisis to crisis but Green says that Zola, who has been at the helm for just five months, can take the club to the next level. "It’s been topsy-turvy since I arrived," he told the Daily Star. "Everyone is looking for a crisis-club – and sometimes it’s been West Ham. But we’re on an upward curve, one where we’ve been picking up results with a fairly settled team and managerial staff, and it’s been an enjoyable recent experience."

A further indication of this new found stability has been the decision by Scott Parker to sign a new four-and-a-half year contract. Gianfranco Zola has described his pride at convincing the midfielder to commit his future to West Ham and has urged the club's other stars to follow his lead. Parker was linked with a move to cash-rich Manchester City in January but remained at Upton Park and last week signed a new deal keeping him with the Hammers until 2013. For Zola that represents a significant triumph and he is now hopeful that other key men, including England goalkeeper Green, Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson, will join the midfielder in agreeing extensions.

The Italian insists that tying down Parker, who had a largely unhappy stint with Chelsea following his £10million move from Charlton in 2004, is a step in the right direction. "We are very proud to keep a player like him. It shows we are doing a good job and the players appreciate what we are doing," said Zola. "It's not a matter of money because if it was he would have gone. He likes what we are doing here and that's a positive sign."

Zola enjoyed a rather more distinguished career at Stamford Bridge than Parker and is still looked upon as arguably the club's finest foreign import. But he insists that players should look for time on the pitch more than the glamour - not to mention the financial rewards - available at the likes of Chelsea and City. "I would personally not go to a team who can give me a lot of money but not play me," Zola said. "That is the problem with the squads at the big teams. They have 24 internationals, sometimes more, so they don't get many games."

On the ongoing negotiations with his other top players, Zola added: "Robert Green is due to sign a new contract and the club are also speaking to Lucas Neill. I think they are happy to stay. I don't think he (Neill) asked for a pay rise but I think the club have tried to make him happy. He is a player who has done a lot for us this year and the club want to extend his contract."

Zola also had praise for 20-year-old midfielder Jack Collison, who is likely to remain in the side to face Bolton at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday. Collison, already signed to a lengthy contract, has unexpectedly emerged as a central figure for West Ham this season due to injuries and Zola thinks there is even more to come from the Wales international. "Jack Collison has been a real surprise for me, not just because of his qualities but because of his personality," Zola said. "You can play good matches and bad matches but you can see a player with personality, who is willing to give everything to the game. He has been fantastic in this way. He's a player who is going to become a very, very important player in this country and for West Ham for a long time."

Lastly, Sergio Ramos has hinted that Real Madrid are simply using Julien Faubert as a stopgap on the right wing. Los Merengues right back Ramos feels that Faubert is a long way from being a key player at the Bernabeu and believes that the Frenchman, who is on loan from West Ham, was signed primarily as cover. "A right winger was missing, and we needed a player that wasn’t cup-tied in the Champions League," revealed Ramos. "We play him when needed and he won’t necessarily play every game. Tactically, when we will need to play someone at right midfield, he could be an option."


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