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Dream start for Zola deepens Newcastle nightmare

SoccerNews in English Premier League 20 Sep 2008

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Gianfranco Zola made a dream start to life at West Ham after David Di Michele inspired a 3-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday.

The Italian striker, who completed a season’s loan from Torino on transfer deadline day, wasted no time in making his compatriot feel at home with a bravura performance.

He scored twice in the first half and then teed up Matthew Etherington for a third just after the interval.

Zola could hardly have scripted a more satisfying afternoon for his first game in charge in east London, yet he was generally restrained in victory, marking each goal with nothing more elaborate than a little punch of the air.

The Sardinian probably realises that far stiffer tests await this season. Indeed, if he could have hand-picked the opposition for his managerial bow, Newcastle might well have been his choice.

The Tynesiders have been mired in turmoil ever since Kevin Keegan’s dramatic resignation as manager two weeks ago: a replacement has still to be found and owner Mike Ashley, shocked by the levels of vitriol from supporters, has put the club up for sale, albeit at a prohibitive asking price of 450 million pounds (823 million dollars).

Such strife occasionally triggers a doughty defiance, but not with Newcastle. They slumped to an embarrassing home defeat to newly-promoted Hull last weekend and this performance, which leaves them second from bottom of the table, bordered on the shambolic, despite a late flurry prompted by Michael Owen’s well-taken goal.

West Ham, sensing Newcastle’s nerves, were in no mood for sympathy. It took them just seven minutes to break through, although even this was overdue. Etherington and Di Michele had already seen shots blocked before the latter finally cracked the Newcastle rearguard.

The striker, who has settled in impressively after a career spent exclusively in Italy, waltzed past limp challenges from Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor before unleashing a shot which struck David Edgar and looped over a stranded Shay Given.

Newcastle, dazed by the set-back, were there for the taking. Mark Noble might have compounded their misery had he struck the target with two inviting free-kicks and Di Michele, a bundle of occasionally eccentric energy, drew howls from the home crowd when he opted to cross rather than shoot six yards out.

Their dismay was soon forgotten. In the 37th minute, Di Michele seized on an exquisite through-ball from Noble and advanced on Given. The Ireland goalkeeper saved brilliantly from his initial shot but Di Michele showed admirable composure in collecting the loose ball, flicking over Taylor and driving in low at Given’s near post.

Newcastle had to start the second half at a sprint to maintain their interest and the chance they craved presented itself in the 52nd minute, when Geremi’s free-kick deflected off Taylor and into the path of Owen, who headed tamely at Robert Green.

The miss was costly. Within a minute, West Ham had torn upfield, Di Michele cutting inside from the right and rolling a teasing pass across the six-yard box. Etherington, arriving late at the back post, could hardly miss.

Owen went on to throw Newcastle’s travelling throng a crumb of comfort with 23 minutes remaining, manoeuvring some space at the edge of the penalty area before curling a precise shot into the right-hand corner.

The goal sparked Newcastle’s strongest spell of the game, with Charles N’Zogbia and Damien Duff both missing presentable chances, but West Ham escaped.

The only thing missing was a hat-trick for Di Michele, but when Luis Boa Morte broke free with the former Palermo forward in support in stoppage time, the Portuguese opted to shoot rather than pass. The ball skimmed wide, but it still did not spoil Zola’s big day.

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