At just over 6 feet 4, it is hard to imagine West Ham’s target man Carlton Cole easily fitting under anything. But in recent weeks Cole and his West Ham team mates, under the guidance of first year manager, Gianfranco Zola have been quietly putting in some solid performances and getting results that has seen them become established once again as a solid top flight team. With recent headlines focused around the ongoing soap opera at Anfield, Spurs re-purchasing half of their old squad, and Man United’s ominous hold on all things silver; the recent displays from the Hammers have hardly been noticed.
They are arguably (along with Villa) only second to Man United in terms of current form having gone unbeaten in their last 6 league matches – 8 with the FA Cup thrown into the mix. Of those games, they have won 4 of 6 in the league and 6 of 8 overall. The club has climbed to 8th place in the table and is currently 4 points better than the clutch of teams from ninth to bottom that are separated by only 7 points. The Hammers will also likely fancy their chances of advancing to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup when they take on Middlesbrough at Upton Park a week from Saturday.
Of course, the season has not exactly been all roses for Zola’s men. Early in the campaign, fans were disillusioned with the displays under former manager Alan Curbishley who found himself in a battle with the board over the transfer policy. Add the collapse of the club sponsor and the ongoing financial turmoil surrounding the ownership, and the outlook was grim for the Irons. Although the appointment of Zola in early September was a popular choice and provided an initial spark, the performances on the field did not really improve. Two initial wins against Newcastle and Fulham were followed by a disastrous run of just 1 win in the next 12 that left the club as serious relegation candidates.
A 4-1 win at Fratton Park on Boxing Day seemed to ignite the team and since then the form has taken an about turn. In a tightly packed bottom half of the table West Ham have ascended the division led, in part, by the great form of striker Carlton Cole. Starting with the match at Portsmouth, Cole hit the net in five consecutive games tying the club record held by Tony Cottee, and bringing his tally up to eight on the season in the process.
While the transfer window did see several players, most notably Craig Bellamy, hit the exit door there was some positive transfer news at Upton Park with the purchase of German Under-20 forward Savio Nsereko from Brescia. This move at least showed some continued ambition and represented a re-investment of a large of portion of the Bellamy sale back into the squad.
This weekend Manchester United pay a visit and, while on current form Ferguson’s team look unstoppable, West Ham will look to continue their recent home record against the Champions, having won the previous two corresponding fixtures at Upton Park. Considering where the team found itself in mid-November most West Ham fans must be elated at the current position. They are on course for a top ten finish and have every chance of making a deep FA Cup run. Up front, if Cole continues to produce, Fabio Capello could do worse elsewhere in considering the Hammer’s big front man for a try out in the full England squad. As Cole prepares for his 150th career league appearence, it’s not likely he will stay under the radar for much longer.