West Bromwich 3 West Ham Utd 2: Zola with plenty to ponder as Brunt earns Albion first win

New Italian manager sees wide-open Hammers come unstuck in typically English clash
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The Independent Football

Welcome back Franco. You must have missed this. After five years back in Italian football, which is remains cautious enough to deter any UK TV channel from broadcasting it this season, this must have been a refreshing change. Two teams without a defensive midfielder between them - or a capable defender - going hell for leather, producing five goals in a chance-laden 90 minutes.

Great to watch. Except, for Gianfranco Zola, at some point the dread realisation will have loomed that, come tomorrow morning, he will be responsible for shoring up one of these defences. The one that handed Albion their first win since promotion.

All of which might explain why the Sardinian barely shifted from a sitting position as he watched from the directors box. Kevin Keen, the former Hammers winger and Macclesfield manager stood in as caretaker yesterday. While pleased with the quality of some of West Ham's attacking play the defending must have made him grateful he will, assuming Zola assents, return to managing the reserves this week. "I love this club," he said. "I'll see Franco next week and hopefully I'll be part of West Ham going forward."

"It was a strange game," said Albion boss Tony Mowbray. "it could have been 6-6. I feel we have played well this season but that first win is important."

It took Albion just two minutes to prise open the Hammers. Congolese debutant left-back Herita Ilunga allowed Borja Valero the freedom of the Hawthorns to pick out a cross, and James Morrison stepped in front of the statuesque Matthew Upson to neatly glance in a header.

Albion could have trebled the lead by the 20th minute. Carl Hoefkens headed wide after Rob Green missed a corner. Green recovered well, denying Robert Koren when the Slovenian was clear on goal.

West Ham's main threat had come from Carlton Cole, who produced the same infuriating mix of class and comedy Zola will have remembered from their Stamford Bridge days together when Claudio Ranieri would call Cole his 'Lion'. When his partner, Dean Ashton, departed with a wounded ear a quarter into the match on came David Di Michele, a deadline day signing Alan Curbishley has been at pains to make clear he had never heard of. This is not as damning as it may seem. Di Michele, 32, is something of an Italian Marcus Bent, playing without fanfare for a series of clubs. The only time he came to wider notice was when, in March last year, he was banned for three months for illegal betting.

If his acquisition, by technical director Gianluca Nani, represents something of a a gamble it paid an initial dividend as, after Albion failed to clear a corner, Di Michele met Callum Davenport's cross with a powerful header Scott Carson could only parry with his feet. Mark Noble tapped in.

Seven minutes later Di Michele was involved again as West Ham went ahead. The Italian's shot forced Carson into conceding a corner which was met by Upson and lashed in by Lucas Neill.

Thereafter Di Michele caught the eye only for two unsuccessful attempts at an overhead kick, and for a late tackle on Paul Robinson which earned him a booking. This proved his innocence of English football; Robinson is not the man to clatter if you want to walk off unaided.

Hammers' lead was brief. Within a minute Green fumbled a free-kick and Leon Barnett fell over his trailing arm as the keeper attempted to regain possession. Roman Bednar despatched the penalty. With Green later denying Bednar, and Carson foiling Luis Boa Morte, a draw loomed until, with ten minutes left, Albion counter-attacked and Chris Brunt ran on to Robinson's pass to score. "Brunt as good a left foot as I've ever worked with but he can be frustrating," added Mowbray. "He's an enigma."

The sense that this was a throwback was underlined by the lack of shirt sponsors. Albion have not had one all season; XL, Hammers' sponsors, have gone bust. The solution - stick purple patches on the chest of their shirts. Zola will hope this is because there was not time to raid the club shop and iron on names. The alternative - to save money - would not bode well.