West Ham United 3 Newcastle United 1: Zola's new-look Hammers show promise as Di Michele delivers

Striker fires double as Italian influence undermines value of Newcastle's 'Cockney Mafia'
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The Independent Football

As Newcastle's disenchanted supporters held aloft their "Cockney Mafia Out" banner, West Ham followers welcomed the Chelsea mafia of Gianfranco Zola and his coach Steve Clarke to Upton Park without rancour, and Zola's compatriot David di Michele won a game of the lively variety that the rookie manager has promised to bring back to the self-styled academy of football.

He would doubtless prefer a little more polish in future – Michael Owen's goal as Newcastle revived in the last half-hour offered food for thought about West Ham's defending – but this will certainly do for starters. So will fourth place in the table.

Di Michele, who had made a goal on his debut as a substitute last week, played from the start here and scored the first two goals before setting up the third for Matthew Etherington, all inside the first hour. It would be interesting to know if the 32-year-old, who has had seven Italian clubs to go with his six Italian caps, was one of the players signed over Alan Curbishley's head when recruited last month on a season's loan from Torino. Short and sharp, he linked well between midfield and the main striker Carlton Cole before tiring towards the end as Newcastle finally threatened to make a game of it.

But other than the odd flourish from Damien Duff, the visitors gave insufficient support to Owen, who registered his 11th goal in 13 games against West Ham. With only one win from their five League games they are doing nothing to justify Mike Ashley's absurd pretence that the club he is trying to sell is worth more than £450 million. They drop into the bottom three and could be bottom by tonight.

Zola, having sat in the stand at West Bromwich last week for a typical old-style West Ham game – an open-ended 3-2 defeat – made three changes, leaving out Calum Davenport and Luis Boa Morte as well as the injured Dean Ashton. The vigorous captain Lucas Neill was moved from right-back to beef up the centre of defence – he was duly booked for fouling Owen – and there was imagination at work in the formation, which in the absence of Ashton and Craig Bellamy was a 4-3-2-1 formation that featured Di Michele and Etherington behind Cole.

It was more than Newcastle could cope with, for all the dogged defending of Steven Taylor. The England Under-21 international had already produced one excellent block from Etherington before the visitors slipped behind after only eight minutes. Supplied by Cole, Di Michele moved inside on his favoured left foot and hit a shot that looped up off the right-back David Edgar and over the head of a stranded ShayGiven.

If there was a strong element of fortune to that goal, the second one combined class and improvisation. This time Mark Noble, one of the midfield trio, was the provider with a through pass that found Di Michele just onside. When his initial shot hit Given's shoulder, the chance appeared to have been wasted but the Italian gained possession again, calmly lobbing over Taylor's head before rounding him and beating the goalkeeper at his near post. "Two-nil to the mafia," chanted the jubilant home support.

Newcastle improved in the second half, which was not difficult, but immediately after Owen could do no more with an instinctive header than direct it straight at Robert Green, Di Michele pushed them all the way back down the mountain. He took Cole's clever pass towards the by-line and curled it perfectly across goal for Etherington to knock in.

Owen, taking Geremi's pass, turning his marker and rolling a shot inside the far post, then brought a modicum of respect to Newcastle's work and ensured that West Ham did not manage a first clean sheet since February – which illustrates where Zola and Clarke have work to do. They introduced Hayden Mullins, Freddie Sears and the unpopular Boa Morte, the last perpetrating an embarrassing miss when clean through to earn the only boos of the afternoon.

"For 70 minutes it was very, very good," Zola said. "We are on the way." It could be an exciting ride, which is all that the West Ham faithful ever ask.