Ilunga looking to show his worth

Full back Herita Ilunga returned to the West Ham starting line-up on Saturday at the Emirates.

WHEN Avram Grant chose first Danny Gabbidon and then Tal Ben Haim to play at left back in the West Ham team, the alarm bells must have been ringing for Congo international Herita Ilunga.

On his arrival at Upton Park to replace the departed George McCartney in August 2008, the loan signing from Toulouse was almost an instant hit.

His pace and ability to storm up the left wing and join the attack gave West Ham an extra dimension and it was no surprise when Gianfranco Zola snapped the player up for a bargain �2million the following summer.

Since then things have not gone so well for the 28-year-old. Injury in the very first game of last season at Wolves set him back and he never really got into his stride.

This time round has been a similar story. Ilunga didn’t seem to have the pace and tackling ability that was the hallmark of his game and it was little surprise when Grant began to leave him on the bench and prefer to play defenders out of position.

But Ilunga came off the bench against Newcastle last week and despite missing the Carling Cup win over Stoke City, he was given the chance to show what he could do at the Emirates on Saturday.

Most Read

“I was very happy to play again,” he said. “I’m okay, and though I’m not 100 per cent, I’m getting better.”

Ilunga certainly found it tough in his first start since the home defeat by Chelsea back in early September. Samir Nasri and Bacary Sagna made it difficult for him in the first half, while the sight of Theo Walcott coming off the bench in the second must have been frightening for the stocky defender.

“I think we did very well, but football is 90 minutes. We were very disappointed,” he said.

“We were compact as a team and sometimes we had some chances on the counter attack.

“I think for the future it is very important to remember our first-half performance against Arsenal, because it was very, very good.”

Ilunga knows that they played well against the Gunners, but he is equally aware that it means nothing unless they get a positive result against Birmingham City on Saturday.

For the left back it is simply a must-win game.

“We can win,” he insisted. “We have to win, we don’t have a choice.

“We need three points to kickstart out season.

“We have six points and we need nine after the next game – nothing less.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter