Gianfranco Zola has great affection for the FA Cup and spoke about its "unique" traditions after seeing his team stay in the competition with a late equaliser against Middlesbrough.
He is finding a global audience for his passion, too. West Ham earned a replay thanks to a goal from the Congolese defender Herita Ilunga created by Savio Nseroko, a German youth international of Ugandan origin.
Zola, twice a winner with Chelsea as a player, was thrilled. "The Cup means an awful lot," he said. "It is a fantastic competition and they say it is losing something, but that makes no sense. We have to make sure everyone values it very much. If I can win this as a manager, then that would be great."
West Ham had trailed to a Stewart Downing goal, his first of the season. Gary O'Neil's 23rd-minute cross made fools of Matthew Upson and James Collins, and Downing capitalised with a far-post header that beat his England team-mate Rob Green. "I have waited a while but it has not been a concern," Downing said. "We have struggled this season and I have had to do a lot more work for the team."
Collins suggested he and Upson shared the blame but he was also upset with the balls used for FA Cup games. "I'm not making excuses but those balls aren't the best, they go all over the place," he said, clearly making an excuse. "I don't see the point in changing balls for the FA Cup."
Middlesbrough would have been in the sixth round for the fourth successive season but for some wayward finishing, notably by Afonso Alves in the second half, and the odd decent stop by Green. Equally, the Boro goalkeeper Brad Jones was alert to keep out Mark Noble and Collins but there were unforgivable misses by Jack Collison, Diego Tristan and David Di Michele.
Ilunga showed the way with a goal from substitute Savio's free-kick in the 83rd minute that mirrored Downing's effort. "Sometimes they were there in body but not in mind," noted Zola, who lost Carlton Cole altogether when he limped off in the first half with an ankle injury. An England debutant in Seville, Cole will have a scan today. There was more bad news for Zola as striker Dean Ashton said yesterday that he does not expect to play again this season after recent ankle surgery.
Goals: Downing 0-1 (23); Ilunga 1-1 (83).
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Upson, Collins, Ilunga; Collison, Noble (Savio, 73), Parker, Boa Morte (Sears, 48); Cole (Tristan, 34), Di Michele. Substitutes not used: Lastuvka, Lopez, Kovac, Spector.
Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Jones; Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz; O'Neil, Digard, Arca (Walker, 76), Johnson; Downing; Alves (Tuncay, 73). Substitutes not used: Turnbull, Emnes, Bates, McMahon, Bennett.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Booked: West Ham Noble, Di Michele; Middlesbro' O'Neil.
Man of the match: Downing.
Attendance: 33,658.Reuse content