Hammers'injury glut gives Cole new break

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Carlton Cole is determined not to look back on a wasted career. It is now five years since Claudio Ranieri, the former Chelsea manager, claimed that Cole was the best young player he had ever worked with.

But the Chiswick-born forward's career has stalled badly since then. Loan periods at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic and Aston Villa failed to revitalize him, with unfounded rape allegations hardly helping.

And, as West Ham struggled following his arrival prior to the start of last season, a section of the Upton Park crowd singled out Cole as the scapegoat for many of their side's ills.

However, the Hammers fans were certainly cheering the 24-year-old at Coventry on Tuesday night, when he prodded home the injury-time winner which booked a place in the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup.

With Dean Ashton, Bobby Zamora and Craig Bellamy all out injured, Cole is the man that the West Ham manager, Alan Curbishley, is relying on to keep the the team moving forward.

And, recognising a rare opportunity to become a first-team regular, Cole is determined not to miss out. "I don't believe I have lived up to certain expectations of me," he admitted. "People have always expected a bit much of me but the managers and coaches I have worked with have seen what I can do.

"I know what the West Ham fans have seen of me so far has not been good enough. I am 24 now. I feel I should have a lot of games under my belt now, but I haven't.

"I accept I have not helped myself sometimes but this is a little window for me. I am getting older now. I realise that I have an opportunity to fulfil my dream and I don't want to waste it."

Cole does feel some of the attacks on him have been unwarranted, particularly as an unfortunate run of injuries have meant he is all too often just short of full fitness when he gets called upon, preventing him from offering a true example of his ability. "You are going to get criticised when it doesn't look like you are putting in a shift but sometimes it has been a bit unjust," he said.

"I have always tried my hardest but I have hardly ever been 100 per cent fit. I always seem to get my chance when I am coming back from injury and it doesn't quite happen for me. It is a bit hard when you are under pressure to impress everybody, although you have to take the rough with the smooth."

Cole confirmed that he had made changes to his lifestyle, although he refused to specify what they were. However, no one at the Hammers will be complaining if he carries the fight on their behalf as he did at the Ricoh Arena on Tuesday.

Curbishley believes the 6ft 3in former England Under-21 international is ideally suited to the lone forward role his current injury crisis has forced upon him just now. And the fact Cole is already assured of his place for Sunday's Barclays Premier League clash with struggling Bolton is a big boost to what has sometimes been his fragile confidence.

"It seems like we are a bit cursed injury-wise at the moment," he said. "I am probably the only fit striker just now, which means I have a good chance to establish myself.

"It means a lot to get a run of games. It builds my confidence up because no matter where I have been, I never seem to be the first choice. But the manager has shown faith in me and I just want to repay that by scoring goals."

While Cole's second strike of the campaign kept West Ham on course for a second cup final appearance in three years – following their thrilling 2006 FA Cup defeat to Liverpool – victory came at a cost with Anton Ferdinand's hamstring problem looking the most serious of three more injury blows, as Mark Noble and Hayden Mullins were also forced off.