Gianfranco Zola has spoken of his pride at his players' battling performance after they earned a second 1-0 win in four days and consolidated their hold on seventh place.
The West Ham United manager saw the impressive Carlton Cole finish off a flowing passing move with the only goal of a lively duel with Wigan Athletic in the 34th minute but was then dismayed to see him sent off three minutes later for his second yellow card. The England striker was harshly penalised for raising his foot to intercept a high ball in front of a defender.
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Cole's red card - which will rule him out for two matches - was not the only low note with Jack Collison going off with a suspected medial ligament injury in his knee, although he was able to walk away from the JJB Stadium. Despite those negatives, nothing could take away from what was a professional performance after a weekend win against Manchester City that sets the club up for a thrilling ten-game finale to the season.
"It's an important win and a very well-deserved win," said Zola, who had nine players under 23 in his squad. "I think that until we got the goal and until Carlton Cole got sent off the team played a fantastic match. More than just to get the three points, to see the players play like this makes me feel very pleased and very proud. The build-up to the goal was magnificent. One or two touches and pass-and-move, it was very, very good."
On the Cole dismissal which prompted him to visit referee Stuart Attwell's room straight after the match, Zola said: "For me it was not a reckless challenge. Carlton Cole didn't even look at the defender. He just went for the ball. I have seen him do it so many times. He is so good at controlling the ball in those situations. He didn't want to cause any damage. For me it was too much.
"Understand me, I don't want to be too critical of the referee. We are here to help the referees because they are human beings like us and they can make mistakes. We need to support them because they are a very important part of the game. Until the red card] it was a game where both of the teams were trying to play. It was a magnificent game of football up to that moment. Then it got a little bit more spicy but that's it, as simple as that."
Wigan themselves finished with ten men when Lee Cattermole saw red for a tackle from behind on the outstanding Scott Parker. The latter's contribution earned yet more plaudits from Zola, with the No8 driving the team on before making way to a standing ovation late on from the terrific travelling support that braved snowy conditions.
The manager said: "Scott Parker is a player who gives everything, He gives his soul when he is on the pitch. He never goes back on a challenge, it is as simple as that. Players like that are committed and involved in every situation."
Such individual displays - set alongside the likes of Cole and the maturing James Tomkins - contributed to a team triumph that left the manager in no doubt his team can push for a seventh-place finish - especially with the next two games against teams in the bottom three in West Bromwich Albion at home and Blackburn Rovers away.
"Why not? We are there. We are ambitious and we know that it is not an easy achievement but the players are enthusiastic and enjoying what they are doing so why not? We want to improve day-by-day and take it from there."