Club Focus – West Ham – Zola’s men will fight until the end

A spirited and brave second-half performance from West Ham saw them end Everton’s home winning streak and their own losing streak in dramatic style.

After falling behind twice and having seen Sylvain Distin remain on the pitch after he brought down Carlton Cole – when he appeared to have a clear goal- scoring opportunity – nobody could question the players’ commitment as Ilan’s thunderbolt header saved what could prove to be a massive point in their survival bid. Gianfranco Zola spent several days at his home in Sardinia to clear his head ahead of what will undoubtedly be a stressful and highly pressured time as the Irons’ last five games approach. He was criticised for his spell away, but was surely justified by the point gained. Finishing above Hull City is the only realistic aim for Zola’s men especially after Burnley effectively bowed out of the survival race with their 6-1 humiliation at home to Manchester City. Hull’s game in hand over the Hammers gives them a psychological lift as their fate is still in their own hands and the knowledge that they are at home to Burnley next weekend is a worrying fact. Given Burnley’s poor form under Brian Laws, the fact they have not won away all season and also Hull’s creditable home form, there is surely only one way the points are going. Gaining something from Goodison – however unlikely that seemed at one point – was vital for confidence levels and belief as well as the points tally.

Things were looking extremely bleak early on as the Hammers lost Valon Behrami in the warm-up, before Scott Parker picked up his 10th booking of the season which means he will now miss crucial encounters against Sunderland and Liverpool. They then fell behind when Jonathan Spector’s poor headed clearance only went as far as Tim Cahill, who headed the ball back across the danger area for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to nod home. Things were looking bleak at half-time as Mido’s weak penalty was saved by Tim Howard and many would have been wondering if West Ham would get a better chance before the end of the game. All eyes were on Zola to rally his troops and inspire a second-half performance which would make people believe that the spirit in the camp is strong enough to achieve survival. There was no doubt that they showed that and backed by West Ham’s excellent away support who didn’t stop throughout the entire second-half, the grit and passion on display at times made fans wonder where it has been for games such as Wolves and Bolton. Scott Parker was given the man of the match award and he was outstanding in the middle of the park and surely he is a shoe-in for the Hammer Of the Year award.

The home games will be crucial from now until the end of the season with Wigan and Sunderland both visiting the Boleyn before Manchester City arrive on the final day. Hammers’ fans will be hoping that safety and City’s fourth place finish are both secured on the final day to avoid a cruel stroke of irony if Carlos Tevez was to a play a part in sending the East Londoners down. Next up at the Boleyn is Sunderland and it is one of five cup finals which remain for the boys in claret and blue. This and the Wigan game will realistically be the ones which Zola will be targeting for 6 vital points with an away trip to Anfield sandwiched in-between. Liverpool are far from an imperious force at the moment and having gone to Anfield last season and gained a creditable goalless draw there has to belief that West Ham can pick up at least a point this time around. Fulham away is usually guaranteed three points for the Hammers and any West Ham fan will tell you that they always beat Fulham. It has perhaps never been this critical that they beat them this time round.

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