Saturday 20 January 2018

Delighted Zola drinks to Hammers’ survival

Ilan 51

Conrad Leach

GIANFRANCO ZOLA is definitely a glass half-full type of guy, but over the last week that glass has been dangerously near to brimming over.

After snatching a draw away to Everton eight days ago he told everyone he was going to get drunk. Then, having beaten Sunderland for the Hammers’ first win in eight games, he stuck to that theme. Asked if he was going up to the boardroom to discuss the game, he replied: "I am not going to go upstairs – I am going to go to the pub with my mates, you can be assured about it."

The Italian may not be the first person you would ask to go with you to the pub – he leads a more ascetic lifestyle than you would imagine from his recent utterances – but he would always be good company. He would probably also be first to get the drinks in, although whether he has acquired a taste for pork scratchings 14 years after arriving in England is doubtful. Still more a mozzarella and ciabatta kind of guy.

The football served at Upton Park was your meat and two veg. The Hammers have been fighting for survival longer than they care to remember and Sunderland, only recently over their own lurch towards the bottom three, are safe for another year.

West Ham showed when getting a last-gasp point at Goodison Park more steel and determination than they have demonstrated on their own ground of late. Home defeats against Wolverhampton, Bolton and Stoke were proof of their soft underbelly and had put them in danger of letting Hull leapfrog them which would have sent Zola’s men into the bottom three.

As it is, this win relegated Portsmouth. Sunderland could have been dangerous but instead were easy prey, even if West Ham made a meal of things. Ilan Araujo, who scored the second equaliser at Everton, was Carlton Cole’s strike partner, the two combining ahead of half-time before Anton Ferdinand blocked the Brazilian’s shot.

Six minutes after the break, Route One came to West Ham’s rescue as their attempts to pick the visitors’ locks in a more subtle way were coming to nothing. A long, high free-kick was headed on by Cole to Ilan who anticipated the flick well to prod home.

There was a farcical moment in stoppage-time when Guillermo Franco’s “goal” was ruled out for handball. The referee, Mike Jones, refused to let Sunderland take the free-kick while half the West Ham players were enjoying a prolonged celebration off the pitch, believing they had scored.

It was the same referee who allowed the “beach ball” goal in Sunderland’s favour against Liverpool this season. In any case, the men from Wearside played like they couldn’t wait for a holiday. Four points clear of the relegation zone, West Ham are only one win away from joining them – and then the drinks will all be on Zola.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Faubert, Da Costa, Upson, Spector; Stanislas (Franco, 74), Noble, Kovac, Behrami; Ilan (Daprela, 90), Cole. Substitutes not used: Kurucz (gk), Gabbidon, McCarthy, Diamanti, Spence.

Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Gordon; Ferdinand, Turner, Da Silva (Benjani, 88), Richardson; Henderson, Cattermole, Meyler (Jones, 63), Malbranque (Zenden, 72); Campbell; Bent. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Bardsley, Hutton, Kilgallon.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Booked: West Ham Spector; Sunderland Gordon, Campbell, Cattermole.

Man of the Match: Behrami.

Attendance: 34,685.

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