Zola sends Cole to finishing school

West Ham 0 Aston Villa 1

When Alan Curbishley left Charlton Athletic two years ago, many supporters claimed to have become bored with watching dull football with his team grinding out results to ensure a mid-table position. At West Ham, the same sentiments were expressed after Curbishley walked out earlier this season with the team fifth in the Premier League. What Charlton – second bottom in the Championship – and West Ham – now confirmed relegation contenders – would not give for a couple of boring 1-0 wins over Christmas.

Gianfranco Zola's defenders would appear capable of keeping a clean sheet in this week's games with Portsmouth and Stoke; they were only beaten on Saturday by a deflection off Lucas Neill from James Milner's attempted cross. The harder part is conjuring up even the one goal. In the last 12 games West Ham have managed to score four times and have only managed to win once while tumbling down the table.

Happy with Craig Bellamy's hard work and enthusiasm, Zola insists he will also keep faith with Carlton Cole, whose potential he first recognised as a Chelsea team-mate, but has not been converted into achievement. "He needs to be more focused on scoring goals," the West Ham manager said. "He knows that and from Monday on I'll be working on him every single day to make it right. He has to score more goals." Dean Ashton's return from injury is apparently no nearer, which will at least make other clubs less likely to risk buying him in January.

In the aftermath of another defeat, Zola looked haggard, as if the reality of Premier League management had suddenly hit him. His players will have to learn to capitalise on periods like the 20 minutes after half-time when they were on top but wasted five chances. "We deserve much better than this," Zola said, but just deserts have never been part of football's package.

Villa's vastly more experienced Martin O'Neill was also shaking his head, in his case at the expectations raised by moving into third place while Manchester United were detained elsewhere. "We're doing nicely but we've got a long way to go," he said. "Breaking into the top four is going to be difficult but it's worth fighting for. We're better than we showed today." Using fewer players in the Premier League this season than any other team (17, the majority of them English) has helped spirit and cohesion, and the one major injury, to John Carew, has been offset by Gabriel Agbonlahor's superb response as a lone striker.

Whether there is enough strength in depth to sustain a challenge will only be answered in the new year. Signs of tiredness were evident on Saturday, although Villa will not feel the ravages of the holiday programme as much as most; after the key game at home to Arsenal on Friday, they do not play again until visiting Hull four days later. No respite, however, for Zola.

Goal: Neill og (78) 0-1.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Upson, Davenport, Ilunga; Collison (Tristan, 84), Parker (Mullins, h-t), Noble, Behrami (Bowyer, 57); Bellamy, Cole. Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Boa Morte, Faubert, Di Michele.

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; Cuellar (Reo-Coker, 58), Davies, Laursen, L Young; Milner, Petrov, Barry, Sidwell, A Young; Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Harewood, Delfouneso, Knight, Shorey, Gardner.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire)

Booked: West Ham Neill, Bellamy; Aston Villa Milner.

Man of the match: Friedel.

Attendance: 31,353.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup