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Tony Cottee: It's no time for panic - Zola has done this before

PUBLISHED: 17:56 23 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:55 05 October 2010

West Ham's poor start to the season is cause for concern, but no reason to panic, says Tony Cottee

By TONY COTTEE

It's too early to panic but I think we're all starting to get a little concerned about our start to the season after two defeats this week.

The loss to Liverpool on Saturday means that this is the worst start to a league season since we were relegated in 2003, while our Carling Cup exit at Bolton on Tuesday night marked yet another early elimination in the knockout competitions.

Yet it's too early to get carried away. This year was always going to be difficult after last season - we had such a good finish from Christmas onwards and there were expectations from some supporters that we would replicate that over the whole of the new campaign.

But improving on ninth position was never going to be easy - we've had to contend with the emergence of Manchester City, who finished below us last year, while Spurs, Aston Villa and Everton have all spent a lot more money that we did.

If we had spent £50m in the transfer window, I'm sure we would've been challenging them again this year, but looking at the funds we've had to work with, I felt those clubs would move away from us and that we'd be a mid-table side.

Certainly I wasn't worried about relegation. In terms of the bottom of the league, I knew there was going to be a handful of teams fighting like mad to beat the drop, but I was always confident that there were eight or nine teams who were worse than us and we'd be well clear of that battle.

Our defeat against Liverpool on Saturday even reinforced that impression to some extent, because we caused a lot of problems for Rafa Benitez's side and there were a lot of positives to take out of the game.

But the concern now is that we haven't picked up the points we would like and with some tough fixtures coming up, there is a danger that we'll be sucked into the relegation dogfight.

With difficult away trips to Man City and Stoke and a meeting with Arsenal coming up in the next four weeks, it's starting to look like our next home match against Fulham will be crucial.

I don't like talking about six-pointers so early in the season, but it's fair to say that we desperately need to win that game - we're still waiting for our first points at the Boleyn Ground and one win can make such a big difference to your league position at this stage of the campaign.

Given our struggles in the league, our elimination from the Carling Cup is bitterly disappointing because success in the cups is such a tonic for the fans.

It's been three years since Cardiff and the FA Cup final against Liverpool and since then our cup performances have been really poor.

Now it means that we're in late September and the season is in danger of turning into the campaign of two years ago, when we basically had nothing to play for in the final five months of the season.

Yes, we've still got the FA Cup to look forward to, but looking back over the last 20 years, history shows us that it's such a difficult competition to win.

But there is reason for optimism. Our current situation is exactly what Gianfranco Zola inherited when he joined the club 12 months ago, so he knows how to turn it around.

Don't forget that after his arrival, we were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Watford, we went through a horrendous run of form in October and our results in November weren't much better.

Only last week, Franco was recalling how difficult it was when he first came to the club but that experience will stand him in good stead during the coming months.

The players have been through it with him as well so they know what's needed to turn things around.

They were able to pick themselves up, right the ship and produce a really good finish in the league that so nearly resulted in Europa League qualification.

The key to last year's turnaround was a really solid defence and it's no coincidence that we've conceded three goals in two successive games without Matthew Upson in the side.

Along with Robert Green and Carlton Cole, he's one of the three players that we can't afford to be without, so hopefully he'll be back for the trip to Man City on Monday.

Then we can focus on being defensively strong and getting back to basics - just as we did 12 months ago - and hopefully nicking a draw at Eastlands that will kickstart another recovery.


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