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Zola not carried away by Hammers debut success

SoccerNews in English Premier League 21 Sep 2008

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Gianfranco Zola urged West Ham to stay grounded after marking the start of his “new adventure” with a 3-1 win over Newcastle.

The Italian was taking charge of his first game since replacing Alan Curbishley at Upton Park and his new charges did not disappoint.

A brace from another Italian, David Di Michele, and a third from Matthew Etherington secured an emphatic triumph and Zola ended the afternoon by being granted a standing ovation from the home fans.

Zola was thrilled at making a winning start to his tenure – despite admitting to a few pre-debut butterflies – but he was determined to keep a check on the club's expectations, with sterner tests looming on the horizon.

“I have been nervous – every single moment of the week,” he said. “But that is normal because this is the beginning of a new adventure for me.

“In the beginning you don't know how the players will react to what you are telling them. But to be honest, they made me feel very comfortable since I arrived here.

“We know that it will be a very tough season. The top four are really top teams but it's important that we improve on what we achieved last season. If the players continue working as they have been, they can achieve that.”

Di Michele will hog the headlines in the wake of his bravura performance – his first goal was deflected in via David Edgar's boot and the second dispatched with cool aplomb after his initial effort had been saved by Shay Given – but Zola preferred to focus on the contribution of his strike partner Carlton Cole.

The former Chelsea striker, who played with Zola at Stamford Bridge, was a constant menace to Newcastle's beleaguered back-line and his display prompted his new manager to trumpet his international credentials.

“Carlton was excellent,” he added. “He was occasionally up against two defenders but he was still unbeilevable.

“He started playing with me when I was at Chelsea and he was impressive then. But he can become much better and if he makes those improvements, he will have all the qualities to play for the national team in the future.”

For Newcastle, this was another dismal day, illuminated only by Michael Owen's smartly taken goal which gave them brief hope in the 67th minute.

The Tynesiders are managerless, bereft of direction from their owner Mike Ashley, who is desperately attempting to sell up, and the fans are mutinous following the sudden resignation of Kevin Keegan earlier this month.

Chris Hughton, the club's reluctant caretaker manager, has now overseen consecutive defeats in his two games in charge and the stakes ahead of Wednesday's League Cup game with Tottenham Hotspur are now even higher.

“Newcastle supporters want to see a manager in place and their team getting results,” he said. “It would be easy for me to say that all the off-field stuff has affected the players but you just don't know.

“Some of the guys have been in similar or worse situations before with other clubs. All I can do is prepare the team as best I can and picking up the players for a big game on Wednesday.

“Tottenham always was a massive game because a club like ours has to stay in cup competitions for as long as possible. But it's even bigger now because we're coming off the back of a few defeats and a win would put a smile back on people's faces.”

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