'It's been a great season'

Gianfranco Zola is pledging to come back stronger next season after seeing his side confirm ninth place for the 2008/09 campaign with a 2-1 home win that confirmed Middlesbrough's relegation.

Carlton Cole had given Zola's side the lead in 34th minute only for Middlesbrough to equalise through Gary O'Neil eight minutes after half-time. The Hammers were not peturbed and continued to press and got their reward when Junior Stanislas scored the game's decisive goal.

Having signed off on his first season in charge, the manager is planning a deserved short break before getting back down to business and preparing for a busy pre-season, his first since joining the club with the aim of taking the club forward.


"We're really looking forward to next season. Last year we came tenth. This year we're ninth, so we achieved what we wanted.

"There was a moment in the season when we were hoping for something more. We were very unlucky not to get there. Two points behind seventh place ... in different circumstances, we could easily have been seventh. But that's football. I'm really happy with the team. It's been a great season.

"It was important to conclude the season with a nice result in front of our supporters. I'm sorry for the other club, the other team, who got relegated. But it was important to get the three points."

The manager had plenty of plaudits for his players including Cole who made it ten for the season with his first start since 4 March. He then won the whufc.com Goal of the Season for his strike that night at Wigan Athletic and finished the evening with a recall for England.

"He's made a difference for us all season in crucial moments," Zola added. "It's impressive the way he's made a difference for us."

While full of positives for his team, Zola had words of comfort for his opposite number Gareth Southgate who is contemplating Championship football with his charges. The manager hoped he would bounce back at the earliest opportunity. "I wish so very, very much," he said. "It's really tough. I'm sure he will bounce back straight away. He's a good manager, and I wish him all the best."