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Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

West Ham owner David Sullivan says Hammers can stay up

By Frank Keogh

West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola
Zola has much to ponder with seven games left in the league

West Ham joint owner David Sullivan has told BBC Sport he is "very confident" the club will avoid relegation despite a 3-1 loss to fellow strugglers Wolves.

A fifth straight defeat left home fans fuming and heaped the pressure on boss Gianfranco Zola, whose side lie just above the Premier League drop zone.

"I'm very confident we'll stay up, but it's a bad position," said Sullivan.

"We're all shell-shocked and deep in thought. I still don't think we'll be relegated but it is more likely now."

West Ham are just three points clear of safety following Tuesday's loss, which upset many Hammers fans who turned up to watch.

As the players left the pitch, striker Carlton Cole was involved in an altercation with one irate supporter.

Sullivan refused to discuss Zola's future with the BBC, although it is understood co-owner David Gold spoke to the manager after the match, and was scheduled to speak with him again on Wednesday.

Zola said he took responsibility for the defeat by Wolves, who are now up to 15th in the table.

"The team is not playing well," said the Italian. "I take responsibility. I am personally hurt because I didn't expect a performance like that. It is painful.

"It is a big blow. For me personally and the team. These are the moments when you have to react."

The match had started with a boisterous atmosphere inside Upton Park but Hammers fans turned on their side as they went 3-0 down with barely an hour gone.

Some chanted, "You're not fit to wear the shirt" at the players, while Zola also came under fire as fans jeered, "You're getting sacked in the morning."

Thousands of others headed for the exits as the travelling Wolves supporters celebrated a well-deserved win that takes them closer to survival.

WEST HAM'S RUN-IN
27 Mar Stoke H
4 Apr Everton A
10 April Sunderland H
19 April Liverpool A
24 April Wigan H
1 May Fulham A
9 May Man City H

Captain Matthew Upson has called for the players to unite and put in a concerted effort to get out of trouble.

"We need to have a long, hard look and change something about what we are doing," he said.

With seven Premier League matches to go, West Ham are one place and three points ahead of Burnley and Hull, in 18th and 19th place respectively.

Their relegation rivals have arguably an easier run-in while Hull also have a game in hand.

Sullivan has said West Ham, which had debts of £110m when he took over with Gold, faces "Armageddon" if they are relegated.

Reaching for his calculator, he told BBC Sport: "We have to remember there is over 15% of the season left - 18.42%, in fact.

"We will see. The bookies think we are going to stay up and they are normally right."

Zola's team were second best throughout against Wolves, with a Scott Parker shot that hit the post in the first half and a late consolation goal from Guillermo Franco among few bright moments in a dismal display.

Kevin Doyle, Ronald Zubar and Matthew Jarvis all got on the scoresheet for Wolves as they rose to 15th spot.

West Ham now face Stoke at home on Saturday but must also travel to Liverpool, Everton and Fulham before the end of the season.

Former Chelsea star Zola said he did not welcome fans jeering his players.

"It hurts me very much," he said. "I have a close bond with this team. The only way we can do better is to play better and win games. That's the only way we can react to this.

606: DEBATE
Vanilla Slush

"Wolves played well and I was impressed and surprised by their performance but, when you are in this situation, shouting at the team will not help.

"It is very difficult to take any positives out of this. It's been simply a bad day for us and I need to think a lot about that."

The 43-year-old, who is managing his first club, said any frustration should be directed at him.

"If (the fans) want to pick on somebody they must pick up on me because I am responsible," he stated.

"If they want to chant something they must chant about me. They have to leave the players because they belong to West Ham, they are working for West Ham and they are committed to West Ham.

"Last year, when we were playing well, I was getting compliments. I took the compliments. I can take the criticism as well but they should leave the players."

Police and stewards were on hand as an angry group of fans gathered above the tunnel as players left the field.

Striker Benni McCarthy said fellow forward Cole was dragged away by team-mates after an altercation although it is thought the Football Association is unlikely to take any disciplinary action.

"I thought Coley knew the guy at first as they were speaking normally," said the South African.

"Eventually I saw some other players go back out and drag him inside. Maybe what went on today got to him and he reacted the wrong way."

Wolves boss McCarthy was delighted to see his side come through so impressively.

After securing a seventh point over their last three games - all played on their travels - he said: "We have not sewn anything up yet but we have gone a long way towards helping out.

"The scoreline didn't flatter us. We played very well and deserved that victory. I don't think anyone could disagree with that. It was a vital win for us."

It was a desperate result for Zola and his assistant Steve Clarke.

The pair took over at West Ham in September 2008 from Alan Curbishley, who quit in protest at the club's sale of key players under Icelandic owners.

In their first season, Zola and Clarke nearly took the Hammers into Europe before they eventually finished ninth, one place behind Tottenham on goal difference.

West Ham comfortably won the opening match of the 2009/2010 season at Wolves but the campaign has been blighted by injuries and off-the-field turmoil.

Sullivan and Gold, who are long-term Hammers fans, saw off three rival bidders to take ownership of the club in January and gave immediate backing to Zola but there has been controversy since.

On the eve of a crucial match at home to Birmingham, the owners' former club, Sullivan revealed he would ask players to take a pay cut at the end of the season.

Zola called the remarks ill-timed but West Ham won the match 2-0 and followed up with a 3-0 defeat of Hull on 24 February, the club's only two victories in 2010.



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see also
West Ham 1-3 Wolves
23 Mar 10 |  Premier League
Tuesday football as it happened
23 Mar 10 |  Football


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