Zola on the up

Gianfranco Zola said his team "are getting better and better" after a thoroughly professional display saw off the challenge of Hull City on Saturday.

The manager was delighted with a second clean sheet in a row as his team moved on to 27 points and up to 13th place in the Barclays Premier League with a 3-0 victory. Added to the 2-0 triumph against Birmingham City last time out, there was naturally plenty of reason for his high spirits.


"We controlled the game very well," he said. "We are getting better and better. It was an excellent game for us. Especially the way we started - it was fantastic. We needed to set the tempo straight away."

However, Zola is mindful that there is the small matter of Manchester United ahead, with Tuesday's trip to Old Trafford one that will test his improving squad. With 38 points believed to be a potential safety mark, the manager said that he will not start to relax until at least 40 are on the board.

"It is too early to say we have turned the corner. The Birmingham and Hull wins are two big results, not only in terms of points and the table but in terms of the confidence. We have massive games coming at home especially and we have to stay focused. It is a very good indication today."

The manager singled out several players for special mention but reserved highest praise for his centre-forward Carlton Cole, whose ninth goal of the season was sandwiched by great strikes from Valon Behrami and Julien Faubert.

"It is a big boost to have him back, absolutely. Carlton is such an important player for us. He gives the team a different dimension but I must say that the whole team performed very well. It has been a team performance.

"If we had Carlton [in December and January] it would have been a big thing for us. You can see when he is in the team, we always pose a threat but he also affects the team defensively. It has also been massive losing Guillermo Franco for a while. He is a player that sometimes doesn't take all the credit he deserves.

"He works so intelligently and his link-up play between Coley and the midfielders is fantastic. It is crucial to keep him fit. It is important that we have him. We are looking better. Don't forget we have players like Benni McCarthy out as well.

Faubert has provided an assist for Cole in each of the last two wins and his displays at right-back are making plenty of people take notice - let alone the stunning late strike that saw him point skywards in a tribute to his late mother. "Julien has been playing very well for us. He had difficult times and now he is proving himself in a different position.

"That is a good thing for him and the club. He has more confidence. We have been trying to help him because last year this was the thing that was letting him down. This year he looks more mature and that is massive."

The manager revealed he had asked for the pitch to be watered before the game to aid his team's snappy passing game against an industrious Hull side. Key to the performance as well was Behrami's tireless running, summed up by his burst forward and one-two with Franco for his third-minute goal - his first at the Boleyn.

"He could have scored a hat-trick," Zola added. "He had a great save from a header and a good shot. Valon is a player that I can play in different positions and in different ways. Hs contribution for the team is always massive. Playing in that position he will have more chances to score."

Looking to the champions on Tuesday, Zola revealed he may "make some changes" but was clear that whoever gets the nod will be up for the fight. "I haven't decided [my team]. But we are going to go there to battle. There is no doubt about that."

While Manchester United is a tough test, he reminded that much would depend on the form at home with Bolton Wanderers, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Stoke City, Sunderland and Wigan Athletic all due to arrive in east London before April is out.

"The home games are going to determine it. It is a tricky one because having such difficult matches away, you don't want to slip up at home. This is a team that when it plays with confidence it can be a surprise for anyone."