Gianfranco Zola heaped well-earned praise on his West Ham United team after their valiant performance in gaining a hard-fought 1-1 Premier League draw at Blackburn Rovers.
The Hammers took a 35th-minute lead through Mark Noble's exquisite strike before conceding an equaliser to Rovers substitute Keith Andrews seven minutes after half-time. From then on, Sam Allardyce's side threw everything at the visitors but West Ham, marshalled expertly by captain Lucas Neill, held out for what could turn out to be a vital point. Indeed, there was even a late shout for a penalty on the returning Kieron Dyer.
Zola, who was forced to reshuffle both his team and his tactics after Matthew Upson and Savio were ruled out through injury, was delighted with the resolve shown by his players. The manager was particularly pleased with the way the Hammers dealt with the aerial bombardment launched by Blackburn winger Morten Gamst Pedersen in shape of a succession of long throws into the penalty area.
"We were really, really good but we had to do that because they were putting so many big bodies in the box. It is very difficult when they create confusion when they keep booming balls in there and it is not easy for anybody. We were excellent. We didn't have, in the second half, that extra physical strength that might have allowed us to cause them a few more problems.
"Honestly, after the first half, in the second half they gave everything. It was one of those games, I tell you, that both sides could have won and I'm pleased with the way my team played."
While he was happy with his defence, which was also without the injured James Collins, Zola was also purring over Noble's goal that ensured a fourth match unbeaten. The England Under-21 midfielder, making his 100th appearance for the club, started a sweeping three-man move involving Luis Boa Morte and Diego Tristan before expertly steering the ball past Paul Robinson.
"It was a very good goal. I must confess I didn't expect it because I thought he was crossing the ball. It was a very good goal and good movement. There was another good move in the first half when Boa Morte put Tristan through on the right and offside has been given. I'm not sure. I'll have to check that one. At the end, I think the result was right.
"We played some very good football in the first half, especially in transition. That was what I was looking for in the second half as well but obviously it wasn't easy so we couldn't do that. The first half was excellent."
Following Noble's strike, West Ham spent much of the remaining 55 minutes on the back foot as Blackburn launched an almost non-stop assault on the visiting penalty area. While the Hammers continued to try and play a short passing game, Rovers reverted to sending a succession of high balls into the box in an attempt to unsettle their opponents.
The tactic worked once, with Andrews latching on to Herita Ilunga's headed clearance to fire past Robert Green, but otherwise West Ham held firm thanks in the main to plucky performances from defenders Neill, Jonathan Spector and James Tomkins. There was also the encouraging sign of a late cameo from substitute Dyer. A footballing artist himself, Zola was philosophical about Blackburn's more direct approach to the game.
"What can I say? It's certainly not my style or type of football but I do respect it. I believe that Sam is going to do well here. Since he came he's brought some very good points to the club. It's certainly not my idea but I respect it. I understand that in football not all the teams can play in the same way. I think not all the managers have the same ideas. I am one of the managers who likes to see differences in football. I don't like to only see one way to play because it's not reality. In Italy we say you can get to Rome in different ways. The important thing is to get to Rome."
Saturday's point at Ewood Park saw West Ham close the gap on sixth-placed Everton to seven points with eight matches left to play - including a potentially crucial trip to Goodison Park on 16 May. With a place in next year's UEFA Europa League within his team's grasp, Zola has urged his players to make one last push and would not be worried about extra games next season.
"It would be a nice problem to have, I tell you. I wish I could have that problem next year but as far as I'm concerned, playing in Europe is always a great thing and we'll be trying everything we can to achieve that."