West Ham 1 Middlesbrough 1: Ilunga leaves it late to keep Zola in hunt

15 February 2009 12:39


Both Gareth Southgate and Gianfranco Zola have had cause to be grateful to the FA Cup and they will live to fight another day after Herita Ilunga's late equaliser snatched a draw which West Ham

just about deserved.

Under Southgate's stewardship, good cup runs have acted as a catalyst for the improved league form which has saved Middlesbrough

from relegation, and Stewart Downing's first-half goal seemed to have earned them a third consecutive place in the sixth round.

But the visitors failed to learn from the West Ham mistake which had given them their goal when Savio's free-kick was allowed to find its way to Ilunga, who stole in to head home.





Get Down and boogie: Stewart Downing after scoring at West Ham

Understandably, during a run of 13 league games without a win, Southgate was accentuating the positive.

 West Ham v Middlesbrough: How the game unfolded

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He said: 'Before we went to Wolves in the previous round we had a lot of discussions about how to take things forward and what we needed to work on, and since then a lot of the performances have been healthy.

Jack squat: Collison reacts after another Hammers chance goes begging

'The character in this squad has been good, the attitude has been excellent. This is the best we've played during that period and I think the players will take great confidence from that. They showed themselves what they are capable of by coming to one of the form teams in the league and playing well.'

Though Southgate was right to praise his team, West Ham were for the most part a shadow of the side who have climbed the Premier League by combining youthful verve with the grit and experience of a few older heads.

With two of their most dynamic players, Scott Parker and Mark Noble, both having off days, there was a lackadaisical air to their performance which translated into poor defending at one end, not least for Downing's goal, and dreadful finishing at the other.

Zola said: 'The first 50 minutes were among the worst we've played, nowhere near the standards of recent weeks. It's a good lesson for us. We've had a lot of compliments and now we know that if we want to keep that up, we have to keep up our standards.

'I had the feeling the body was there but the mind sometimes wasn't. A game like this maybe three months ago we would have lost easily. I'm pleased because the players at least showed me that they didn't want to lose.'

Although Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Jones made two good saves to deny Mark Noble and James Collins, Middlesbrough were worth the lead they took in the 23rd minute when Collins inexplicably allowed Gary O'Neil's cross to reach the stooping Downing at the far post.





Honours even: West Ham's David Di Michele (left) tackles Boro's Didier Digard

Jones later clawed away Noble's deflected shot and Jack Collison sent the follow-up well over the bar from two yards. But a horribly miscued shot by Diego Tristan, who had come on for Carlton Cole when the newly capped England striker went off with an ankle injury, summed up West Ham's first half.

The home surge did not come before Afonso Alves had three chances to extend Middlesbrough's lead, but the Brazilian forced only one save from Robert Green.

After Tristan had spurned one chance and David Di Michele had shot unforgivably over the bar, Ilunga finally made the breakthrough.

The Middlesbrough defence watched Savio's free-kick dip and bounce all the way across the penalty area and the Congolese defender matched Downing's decisive finish.

WEST HAM (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Collins, Upson, Ilunga; Collison, Parker, Noble (Savio 74min), Boa Morte (Sears 49); Di Michele, Cole (Tristan 33). Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Lopez, Kovac, Spector. Booked: Noble, Di Michele.

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

Subs (not used): Turnbull, Emnes, Bates, McMahon, Bennett.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

 West Ham v Middlesbrough: How the game unfolded

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Source: Daily_Mail