Football

West Ham United Vs Wigan Athletic, Sat 24 Apr 2010

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Gianfranco Zola is banking on some Carlton Cole heroics to fire West Ham towards Barclays Premier League safety against Wigan on Saturday.

The Hammers are three points outside the relegation zone and a victory at Upton Park, combined with defeats for Hull and Burnley, would effectively secure their top-flight status.

West Ham's goal difference - 21 better than Hull and 18 better than Burnley - is worth an extra point with only three matches remaining of a turbulent season.

Cole has not scored in nine league games and is struggling with a persistent knee injury, which forced him to be replaced early in Monday's defeat at Liverpool.

But Zola is convinced the England striker is saving his best goalscoring form for when it really matters - and there is no time more pressing than against Wigan.

"Carlton hasn't scored for a while but he's keeping an important one back for us, possibly a winner," said Zola.

"I'm relying on that. He hasn't scored many goals but he is an important player for us. As I said, I know he is keeping something good for us."

West Ham were panned for their performance in Monday's 3-0 defeat at Liverpool, after which the players admitted to Zola they had let him down.

That honesty session convinced Zola that his men have the character required to take a giant stride towards safety.

And the Hammers will be boosted by the return of dynamic midfielder Scott Parker, who missed the last two games through suspension and is set to replace Junior Stanislas.

"We know we need a reaction," said Zola.

"It's a massive game for us and we also know that the last game wasn't very good. You say certain things in the changing room and it is important because it means the players are committed.

"They are determined to bounce back. I am confident we will see a reaction. We have had so many problems this year and we are determined to give those problems a kick and Saturday is an incredible opportunity to do that. "

Luis Boa Morte will also come into the selection equation, though the best he can hope for is a place on the bench after 11 months out with a knee injury.

"He's fit and has played two games with the reserve team. I'm delighted to have him back available because he's an important player on and off the pitch," said Zola.

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez is demanding a cup final approach from his players, with the big prize being Premier League survival.

Martinez and his squad face West Ham knowing a win guarantees the Latics a sixth successive season in the top flight, achieving the aim asked of him by chairman Dave Whelan when he took charge last summer.

Should they lose at Upton Park, Wigan could conceivably stay up if Hull are beaten at home to Sunderland on Saturday and Burnley fail to defeat Liverpool at Turf Moor on Sunday, but that is not the way Martinez wants to clinch survival.

"I've heard a lot of people say we are safe, but I don't believe that," said Martinez, whose side are seven points clear of the relegation zone with three games to play.

"Mathematically we're not safe, so we need to make sure we achieve that first and foremost, and I feel the players are focused, more concentrated right now than ever this season.

"We can allow ourselves to treat this game as a cup final because the reality is if we beat West Ham we've achieved our aim for this season, which is staying in the Premier League, and it doesn't come any bigger than that."

Defender Gary Caldwell returns from a three-match suspension, with midfielder Hendry Thomas the only doubt with a quad muscle injury that has seen him miss the last three games.

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Wigan Athletic
West Ham United

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