'Our team is alive'

Gianfranco Zola rightly found plenty of positives despite defeat by title-chasing Liverpool on Saturday that complicated the club's UEFA Europa League hopes.

The defeat - which was harsh on the likes of the excellent James Tomkins and Mark Noble - allowed Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur to move just ahead of the Hammers in the race for seventh spot but Zola knew there was much to play for with two games to go. "It's strange because we are so close to each other there. It doesn't matter really as our team is alive, it plays well and above all every time we had a bad game we always came back strong.

"I'm confident that in the next two games my team is going to give everything and I won't be surprised if we still get the results. We are still very up for it. There are two games to go. Two difficult games, especially the one on Saturday [at Everton], but the players are determined and focused so don't be surprised if they surprise you."

A swift early strike from Steven Gerrard had put the home side on the back foot and, despite some promising play, the Reds doubled the advantage through Gerrard's follow-up after Robert Green's saved penalty just before half-time and never looked back. Ryan Babel rounded out the scoring late on despite Green's best efforts to give a 3-0 scoreline that the manager felt was harsh on his side.

"I don't think on the pitch there was a big difference," he said. "The first half probably we played better than them. The quality of the passing was good, but 2-0 was too much really."

Referring to David Di Michele's unfortunate stumble after racing through on goal and question marks over the Luis Boa Morte foul on Fernando Torres that produced the spot-kick, the manager added: "It could have been 2-1, in my opinion it should have been 1-1 but that's the difference really.

"I can't be too hard on my players as they played a good game, all the time very high-quality football but it is just teams like Liverpool, they have an opportunity and they punish you.

"I'm not going to have a go at the referee. He is a human being like that can make mistakes, it doesn't really matter. Today unfortunately it wasn't the case but in other times it can be the other way around so we are not going to complain about that."

The manager has confirmed that Carlton Cole will be in contention for Goodison Park next weekend after recovering from a groin problem while Jack Collison could be in the frame to start that match after his second run-out off the bench. "He's been terrific this year and to have him back fully is very good," said the manager, who will also wait for updates on James Collins (calf), Kieron Dyer (hamstring) and Scott Parker (groin)  during the week.

There was also the welcome sight of Dean Ashton around the first team on Saturday with the striker in the dressing room before and after the game having been given positive news by a specialist on his ankle at the end of the week. In the continued absence of the striker and his fellow England international Cole, Diego Tristan and Di Michele have stepped into the breach and Zola had particular words of encouragement for the Italian.

"I have said many times that David does not get many goals but he is a key player for us and makes the team play very well. It's a pity because if he could score a few more goals he could be a top player because other than that he really makes the team play very well."

When pushed on the spot-kick that swung the contest firmly in Liverpool's favour, Zola said: "The penalty I didn't see, [Boa Morte] said it was a free-kick before. I said before it's pointless we go back to that, it's part of the game and we have to accept that. Although it is very painful because the quality in the first half was very good from us."

"The gap between the top four or five teams and the others is huge. So for teams like us to get on that level we have to work hard. As I said the way the team played in the first half is encouraging. We need to improve a little bit of quality in the last third and then maybe we can match teams like that and I am confident we can do that."