West Ham 1 Boro 1: Zola's core values give Hammers reason to be hopeful

16 February 2009 03:52
The last time these sides met in the FA Cup, West Ham

progressed to the Millennium Stadium and a heartbreaking shoot-out defeat by Liverpool

, while Middlesbrough

rounded off their season with a UEFA Cup final thrashing at the hands of Sevilla.

A measure of just how much West Ham and Middlesbrough have struggled for stability in the three years since is that they each started with just one player - James Collins and Stewart Downing respectively - from the teams who met in that semi-final at Villa Park.

But the signs are there for West Ham that under Gianfranco Zola they are finally getting back on an even keel.



Lucky leveller: Herita Ilunga (L) makes Boro pay for their poor finishing to keep the Hammers in the hat

The predicted January fire sale - owing to the financial problems of owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson - never came to pass, with only striker Craig Bellamy sold for a tidy sum to Manchester City.

And Zola has since been quietly allowed to get on with the business of securing the futures of the players he believes will be the cornerstones of West Ham's resurgence.

'Robert Green, Matthew Upson and also Scott Parker have signed deals,' Zola was happy to point out to those who had said such vital players would quit Upton Park.

 West Ham 1 Middlesbrough 1: How the action unfolded

Everton 3 Aston Villa 1

Derby 1 Man Utd 4

Blackburn 2 Coventry 2

Swansea 1 Fulham 1

Sheff Utd 1 Hull 1

FA Cup quarter final draw: Hammers or Boro face tricky trip to Everton

Parker pens new West Ham deal to remain at Upton Park until 2013

WEST HAM UNITED FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB

MIDDLESBROUGH FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB



'They are the core of this team and I believe they can be the core of this team for a long time. The club know this, too.

Sign up: Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola is hopeful captain Lucas Neill will pen a new deal at Upton Park

'Hopefully, soon Lucas Neill will sign a contract as well. Things are going well, we just need to understand that we want this to carry on for a long time.'

The need for such experienced campaigners was laid bare against Middlesbrough as West Ham failed to show the form which has carried them to eighth in the table.

Playing their part in making sure Boro's lead was not extended beyond Downing's 22nd-minute opener, they ensured a bad day at the office ended up with a replay-earning equaliser from Herita Ilunga seven minutes from time.

James Collins, who along with defensive partner Upson was at fault for Downing's goal, was left struggling to explain his side's poor display.

'We were shocking in the first half, terrible, the worst we've been for a long time,' admitted Collins.

'Luckily we came up with a goal late on and we are still in the Cup.'

Boro's failure to convert a host of chances highlighted the root cause of their failure to win a Barclays Premier League match in 13 attempts - that and their propensity to blow it when in a winning position.

All smiles: Stewart Downing celebrates his opener for Boro with Afonso Alves



But the manner in which Gareth Southgate's side went about their business bodes well for the run-in while the chance to finish the job in the FA Cup on home turf could prove beneficial to Boro's chances of turning around their league form.

'People ask if the Cup is an unwelcome distraction,' said Southgate.

'Not at all. It gives us a tough week with three home matches and the groundsman won't be pleased, but the rest of the club will be because it is important revenue for us and keeps us in the competition. That gives everyone optimism.

'The confidence has been coming back in the last few weeks. The players believe in what we are doing. It will be easier to lift them this week after a performance like that and get them ready for next Saturday.'

Close control: David Di Michele attempts to hold off Boro's David Wheater



Southgate's decision to fight off a renewed approach from Tottenham

for Downing, rather than cash in to fund moves for battled-hardened campaigners to supplement his talented but inexperienced squad, has been questioned in some quarters.

But the England midfielder's display in a free role, behind the alarmingly inaccurate Afonso Alves, will give cause for optimism that the local hero can lead Boro to safety and will no doubt have pleased Fabio Capello into the bargain.

UNSUNG HERO ROBERT HUTH (Middlesbrough)

Dogged by criticism that he has not done enough to justify the £6million fee Boro paid Chelsea for him in August 2006, he gave a rocksolid display alongside David Wheater in only his 11th game of the season. If he maintains this form, perhaps the German will bring an end to Boro's costly defensive fragility.

Echoing his manager's words, Downing said: 'The confidence is creeping back in and one day we're going to turn someone over because you cannot create that many chances every game and not put them away.'

Outlining just how vital it had been to hang on to Downing, Southgate added: 'He did ask to leave but I'm not certain he really, really wanted to leave.

HAVE YOUR SAY: WHO ARE YOUR FA CUP UNSUNG HEROES - Post your views in the comments box below Hammer blow: England striker Carlton Cole will undergo a scan on Monday morning after he limped off with an injured ankle in the first half



'His ideal is that this club do well and he is a huge part of the club doing well. Keeping your best players and bringing talent through the academy is the route forward for us.'

If Boro can produce a few more players of the calibre of Downing, Southgate will soon have cornerstones of his own in place.

MATCH FACTS

WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): Green 7; Neill 6, Collins 6, Upson 6, Ilunga 7; Collison 6, Parker 6, Noble 6 (Nsereko 74min, 7), Boa Morte 6 (Sears 49, 6); Di Michele 6, Cole 6 (Tristan 33, 5). Booked: Noble, Di Michele.

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-5-1) Jones 7; Hoyte 6, Huth 7, Wheater 7, Pogatetz 7; Johnson 6, O'Neil 7, Digard 7, Arca 6 (Walker 77), Downing 7; Alves 5 (Sanli 74, 5). Booked: O'Neil.

Man of the match: Stewart Downing. Referee: Peter Walton.

HAVE YOUR SAY: WHO ARE YOUR FA CUP UNSUNG HEROES - Post your views in the comments box below  West Ham 1 Middlesbrough 1: How the action unfolded

Everton 3 Aston Villa 1

Derby 1 Man Utd 4

Blackburn 2 Coventry 2

Swansea 1 Fulham 1

Sheff Utd 1 Hull 1

FA Cup quarter final draw: Hammers or Boro face tricky trip to Everton

Parker pens new West Ham deal to remain at Upton Park until 2013

WEST HAM UNITED FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB

MIDDLESBROUGH FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB





 

Source: Daily_Mail