Zola ready for fresh journey to final frontier

Hartlepool 0 West Ham United 2
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The Independent Football

Gianfranco Zola spoke in the build-up to this tie of seeing his father on the King's Road in May 1997 straining to witness his son take part in Chelsea's celebrations for winning the FA Cup just six months after Zola joined the club. "I remember my father was climbing up a lamp post to try to get a view of the bus," Zola said.

After Saturday's potentially hazardous tie Zola resumed his affectionate reflections on the Cup. Figuratively and physically, Hartlepool is a long way from Wembley but to Zola it is on West Ham's horizon.

Eighth in the Premier League and now on a six-game unbeaten run, West Ham host Hull on Wednesday night knowing that a victory would take them to 32 points with 15 games remaining. Although the Hammers are only eight points off bottom, that scenario is about as relaxing as it gets.

Given that West Ham's Icelandic owners appear to have imploded financially, and that January has brought 24-hour rolling speculation and bids for players, successfully in the case of Craig Bellamy and Manchester City, the idea of relaxation at Upton Park would provoke sarcasm.

But, despite it all, including a run of four straight defeats in October in Zola's second month in the job, the little Italian has forged a pattern of play based on midfield movement. Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Jack Collison and Valon Behrami only stop when told. Zola was glowing about what Parker "represents".

In Hartlepool, the Hammers found a passing resemblance. Andy Monkhouse, Ritchie Jones, Gary Liddle and Matty Robson all showed their capabilities – and sometimes limitations – as Hartlepool tried to weave their way through the Londoners during a fine first 43 minutes.

But Hartlepool lacked the other dimension Carlton Cole gives West Ham. Ultimately, that spoke loudly as home attacks petered out. Then West Ham broke upfield and Behrami scored. Two minutes later referee Lee Mason awarded a penalty for Michael Nelson's handball outside the area.

Mark Noble converted, then said Zola had ribbed him for a comment about it taking "two years" for Zola's policies to become clear. As in '97, Zola is ahead of schedule.

Goals: Behrami (44) 0-1; Noble pen (45) 0-2.

Hartlepool United (4-4-2) Lee-Barrett; Sweeney, Nelson, Clark, Humphreys; Monkhouse, Jones (Foley, 84) Liddle, Robson; Mackay (Henderson, 56) Porter. Substitutes not used: Budtz, McCunnie, Collins, Power, Rowell.

West Ham United (4-4-2) Green; Faubert, Collins, Tomkins, Ilunga; Behrami, Parker, Noble, Collison (Boa Morte, 63); Cole (Sears, 78) Di Michele (Mullins, 75). Substitutes not used: Stech, Neill, Spector, Tristan.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Booked: West Ham Ilunga, Cole, Collins.

Man of the match: Jones.

Attendance: 6,849.