Hammers’ Cole is close to his best

Carlton Cole returned to form with a sparkling performance in the 2-2 draw at Birmingham City on Saturday.

WHEN IT comes to love-hate relationships, Carlton Cole and the West Ham fans must be right up there with the best.

The former Chelsea marksman has now made 136 appearances in claret and blue over four years, but it seems that it only takes a couple of bad performances to have the boo-boys on his back once again.

Cole admits that his form has suffered in recent times, but anyone at Birmingham City on Saturday would have been in no doubt that the England international was back close to his best.

“For me, all I need is games, just to get back playing,” said Cole, who will be 27 on the eve of Saturday’s clash with Blackpool.

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“I will take a lot of confidence from today because I felt I put myself about and tried to make myself effective, even though I didn’t get my goal.”

He couldn’t have come much closer. On 21 minutes, Victor Obinna crossed from the right, Valon Behrami flicked it on and Cole seemed to have added the finishing touch with his left foot, only for Ben Foster to superbly push the ball on to his post.

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“It was a good save from the goalkeeper,” said Cole with a wry smile. “I thought it was on and I was already celebrating in my head.

“On another day that shot would have gone in. Ben Foster is a great goalkeeper, you have to realise that. It wasn’t an ordinary keeper who saved that.”

Cole has just one goal to his name this season, but has spent much of the campaign warming the bench. He has just been happy to play a part and fully understands why he has missed out this term.

“Of course, I want to play football every week, but sometimes you have to take a step back and look at your own performances and think about whether you are performing to the standards you want to be.

“Me personally, I thought I was out of form, and I just want to get back to where I was.”

It certainly look like he was at St Andrews. His hold-up play was superb, he hardly gave the ball away all afternoon, while he conceded only one foul. It is the sort of form that propelled him to the attention of England coach Fabio Capello.

“That has always been my game,” he said. “That was how I got into the England team, it wasn’t because of my goals, it was because of my hold up skills.

“If I can get back to that and put some goals on top of it then hopefully I will be a threat in the future.”

One thing that has hampered Cole both under Gianfranco Zola and this season under Avram Grant, is the way he has been left isolated in the 4-5-1 formation. On Saturday there was none of that, and perhaps for the first time, you could see the idea that Grant has for the team.

“I had a lot of support today,” he said. “That is what we have been working on in training. The thing is they are really mobile players that I play with.

“As long as we get the tactics right and the positioning right, I think the three of us can make a formidable partnership up there.

“You could see how it works when you look at Valon’s goal today. If we can do that more often, then the formation could be a real threat to a lot of teams.”

Despite not hitting the net himself, Cole’s efforts helped West Ham into a two-goal lead, but the striker simply cannot understand why they were not able to hang on for the three points.

“The lads really did try and dig in today,” he explained. “We went 2-0 up and I think we got a little bit complacent. I don’t think we panicked, we were still comfortable, but I just don’t know what happened.

“One problem is we are hardly ever 2-0 up,” he laughed. “It has been a long time and if we had more experience at that position maybe this wouldn’t have happened today.

“We can only learn from this and if on Wednesday we go 2-0 up, we will know how to deal with it a lot better.”

West Ham’s fortunes almost seem to be intertwined with Cole’s form on the field, so perhaps both are now turning the corner.

Cole is certainly hopeful: “You can see how well we played today, we didn’t look like a team at the bottom of the league, it doesn’t make sense. We just need to dig in, keep focused and it will turn for us.”

With Cole in this form, he is surely right, but this week’s games will certainly give us some clues.

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