Zola expresses confidence in Green
West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola is confident goalkeeper Robert Green will not be unduly affected by his England sending-off when his struggling side take on Stoke City in the Premier League tomorrow. Green was dismissed 15 minutes into England's 1-0 defeat by Ukraine last Saturday as Fabio Capello's men lost their 100 per cent record in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying.
The former Norwich City player became the first goalkeeper to be sent off playing for England, and some are now saying his spot in Capello's squad for next summer is under threat. Zola believes Green does not deserve the criticism that has come his way, and is backing his first-choice custodian to produce the goods at the Britannia Stadium as the Hammers look to kick-start their faltering league campaign.
"He just came out to repair a mistake made (by Rio Ferdinand) in front him - he has been unlucky," Zola said. "Why should his (World Cup) position be compromised because of that?
"He has been brilliant this week. It's been very difficult for me to beat him from the edge of the box in training. He is determined to come back and do well for us tomorrow. It is important for us that he's playing well."
Zola welcomes back Green and striker Carlton Cole this weekend from England duty, and they are set to be key figures in what could be a season of struggle for West Ham. The Italian is arguably facing the toughest battle of his managerial career with the Hammers second-bottom on just five points from seven games, equalling their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign.
They are winless in six games - their only league victory came on the opening weekend at promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers - but the diminutive former Italy forward retains faith in his players. "No matter what our position is, they have to perform," he said.
"They (the players) are focused. They know the position is not very good but it's a position we don't deserve and we are willing to fight. Tomorrow is a difficult game against difficult opposition."
Zola calls for A-game
West Ham's record against Stoke will be a source of inspiration to Zola. The Hammers did the double over the Potters last season and have not lost away to the midlands outfit since October 1983, a run that takes in six matches.
The Londoners coped well with Stoke's direct style and aerial bombardment when picking up six points against them last campaign, and Zola is backing his team to stand firm tomorrow. "I have a lot of respect for them and their manager," he added.
"They are a tough team. We know what is coming tomorrow and we need to take out our A-game if we want to do something. We are going to take some measures. Last year we did very well against them and we hope to do it this year too."
Striker Guillermo Franco played for Mexico last week and he is in line to make his West Ham debut tomorrow, most likely off the bench. Zola will have to change his midfield with Scott Parker suspended.