McCarthy turns heat on Zola in survival battle

Wolves manager says West Ham will feel the pressure in tonight's relegation six-pointer
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The Independent Online

West Ham United have not lost at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League since John Lyall and Sammy Chung were their respective managers, but as the two clubs prepare to meet at Upton Park tonight there is little doubt which of the strugglers needs the win more.

Both have only eight matches left this season and both are uncomfortably close to the Premier League relegation zone, but on paper at least this is West Ham's best chance between now and the end of the season of taking three points from a fixture.

As he looked ahead to the match Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, was more than happy to turn up the heat on Gianfranco Zola, his West Ham counterpart. "In this fixture the pressure is on them," McCarthy said. "If we win this it will put a real dent in West Ham and it would certainly put some real daylight between us and Burnley and Hull.

"What would it do to us psychologically? What would it do to the rest of them psychologically? If we don't lose it would be a hell of a result for us. It is a huge game – more so for West Ham."

Wolves' last League victory at Upton Park, achieved in March 1978 with goals by Billy Rafferty and Willie Carr, helped both to secure their own survival in the old First Division and to condemn Trevor Brooking and company to relegation after a 20-year run in the top flight. West Ham returned three years later, but given the current precarious state of the club's finances relegation is not a fate that their new owners would want to contemplate.

Zola described tonight's match as "massive", although he insisted that it would decide nothing. "I want to underline the importance of Wolves, but it is not the last game of the season," he said. "We have to face the match with focus and concentration, but without doing silly things."

One major source of consolation for the clubs just above the drop zone is that the table as it stands is a fair reflection of current form. Portsmouth, Hull and Burnley have won fewer points since the turn of the year – eight, six and four respectively – than any of their rivals. West Ham and Wolves have both taken nine, with Sunderland's 11 the next worst return.

Portsmouth appear doomed, while the situation is looking increasingly bleak for Hull and Burnley. The lowest points total with which any Premier League club has survived was West Bromwich Albion's 34 five years ago. Hull and Burnley would both need to show rapid improvement to match that total, which may well not be enough anyway. A total of 42 points failed to save West Ham from relegation in 2003, though Zola's men are hardly likely to need anywhere near as many to survive this time around.

West Ham have lost their last four matches, but those fixtures included visits to Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Given that four of their last five home games are against relegation rivals, their fate should still largely be in their own hands. They also have only three away games left.

Zola, nevertheless, pointed out that last weekend's results showed how the Premier League has not always been predictable this year. "You do look at the fixture list of all the teams around you, but you cannot really work that way because you never know what will happen," he said.

"I am sure there were not many people expecting Portsmouth to beat Hull or for Wolves to get a point at Aston Villa. You have to work out how to get your own points first, and then maybe look at the others."

West Ham have suffered with injuries to key players lately, but Zola should be able to field a stronger team tonight. Scott Parker, the captain, is expected to make his comeback after a leg injury, Carlton Cole is likely to start after coming off the substitutes' bench at Arsenal on Saturday, while Herita Ilunga and Mark Noble are pressing for places.

Wolves, who should be unchanged, have turned their own fortunes around with their last two results, a win at Burnley and a draw at Villa. "

"If I had been offered four points from those two games I would have taken them," McCarthy said. "Having got them we're going to West Ham feeling confident and feeling good about ourselves, but the pressure is still on us because we're not safe with the points that we've got. We don't want to suddenly breathe a sigh of relief because we've got four points from two away games and think: 'That's it, we can relax now.' We want to kick on and pick up more points."

He added: "As to how many points we need, we need more than three others. The only way we can make things go our way is with our results, because with eight games to go it can turn around so quickly."

McCarthy thinks West Ham will have targeted tonight's game as a key one in their survival campaign but he stressed: "Anyone who thinks we're a soft touch has maybe had to change their opinion. When we were beaten by West Ham on the opening day of the season there was a lot of hollering and hooting going on that we were destined for the drop and they were destined for bigger and better things.

"It's amazing how, with eight games to play, we're all in the mix for the drop. There's a lot more pressure on them now than there was 30 games ago."

Who will escape the drop zone?

*15th place: Wigan P31 W8 D7 L16 Pts 31

To play: Man City (A, Mon) Portsmouth (H, 14 Apr) Arsenal (H, 18 Apr), West Ham (A, 24 Apr) Hull (H, 1 May) Chelsea (A, 9 May) Fulham (A, tba)

What would keep them up? In a season when they have beaten Chelsea and Liverpool and been thrashed by Spurs and Bolton, some consistency would help.

*16th: Wolves P30 W7 D7 L16 Pts 28

To play: W Ham (A, tonight) Everton (H, Saturday) Arsenal (A, 3 Apr) Stoke (H, 11 Apr) Fulham (A, 17 Apr) Blackburn (H, 24 Apr) Portsmouth (A, 1 May) Sunderland (H, 9 May)

What would keep them up? The team spirit fostered by manager Mick McCarthy aided by good organisation and the odd goal from Kevin Doyle.

*17th: West Ham P30 W6 D9 L15 Pts 27

To play: Wolves (H, tonight) Stoke (H, Sat) Everton (A, 4 Apr) Sunderland (H, 10 Apr) Liverpool (A, 19 Apr) Wigan (H, 24 Apr) Fulham (A, 1 May) M City (H, 9 May)

What would keep them up? Keeping Carlton Cole and Scott Parker fit, who with Robert Green and Matthew Upson are the spine of the team.

*18th: Burnley P31 W6 D6 L19 Pts 24

To play: Blackburn (H, Sun) Man City (H, 3 Apr) Hull (A, 10 Apr), Sunderland (A, 17 Apr) Liverpool (H, 24 Apr) Birmingham (A, 1 May) Spurs (H, 9 May)

What would keep them up? Were never expected to stay up, so no sense of panic, but regaining their previously fine home form that served them so well earlier in the season may give them half a chance

*19th: Hull P30 W5 D9 L16 Pts 24

To play: Fulham (H, Sat) Stoke (A, 3 Apr) Burnley (H, 10 Apr), Birmingham (A, 17 Apr) Aston Villa (H, 21 Apr) Sunderland (H, 24 Apr) Wigan (A, 1 May), Liverpool (H, 9 May)

What would keep them up? Winning upcoming home games against Fulham and Burnley are a must while new manager Iain Dowie must learn from his brief experience at Newcastle last year, keep his Tigers motivated – and on speaking terms.

*20th: Portsmouth P30 W6 D4 L20 Pts 13

To play: Chelsea (H, tom) Spurs (A, Sat) Blackburn (H, 3 Apr) Wigan (A, 14 Apr) A Villa (H, 18 Apr) Bolton (A, 24 Apr) Wolves (H, 1 May) Everton (A, 9 May)

What would keep them up? A miracle.

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