Tony Cottee has challenged West Ham United's young debutants Junior Stanislas and Josh Payne to take their big chance in the Hammers' first-team.

Winger Stanislas, 19, made a lively Premier League bow in the goalless Boleyn Ground stalemate with West Bromwich Albion, while versatile midfielder Payne, 18, was handed his first taste of top-flight football late in the 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers five days later.

The pair's presence in Gianfranco Zola's team brought the number of former Academy graduates to appear for the Hammers this season to eight - the others being Mark Noble, Jack Collison, James Tomkins, Freddie Sears, Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines. Reserve team captain Bondz N'Gala and goalkeeper Marek Stech have also been named in Zola's match-day squad.

As another notable Academy graduate, Cottee has been delighted by the progress of the latest batch of promising youngsters to roll off the club's production line - and there could be more to come.

"I'm just so pleased that the conveyor belt is still producing the youngster," Cottee said. "Off the back of James, Freddie, Mark and Jack, who has been fantastic this year, we have got another two-or-three guys coming through.

"I spoke to [Academy director] Tony Carr a couple of weeks ago and he told me there is another group of really good 15 and 16-year-old old youngsters coming up too, so there's not a lot wrong with the youth system at West Ham. We've always produced good players.

"Credit goes to Tony and everyone at the Academy that we are still producing the youngsters."

Cottee believes that the work Carr and his team are doing at Little Heath means that West Ham have an almost unrivalled record in the Premier League when it comes to producing homegrown talent.

"We had a bit of a lean spell in the early 1990s but then we had the six diamonds, as I call them, when Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe came through.

"It is pleasing now that we're in the 21st century that we're still producing the youngsters. It is difficult these days to bring young players through but it's great to think that we have at least six home-grown players who are in the first-team squad on a match-day. There are not many Premier League clubs who could say they can do that."

While Stanislas and Payne had to make do with climbing off the substitutes' bench to make their respective debuts, Cottee himself marked his first appearance in claret and blue by scoring the opening goal in a 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the Boleyn Ground on New Year's Day 1983. He was just 17.

More than 25 years later, the striker who went on to score 146 goals in 336 appearances for West Ham, has urged the club's youngsters to follow in his footsteps and grab their chances to shine at the highest level. Cottee also found time to praise manager Gianfranco Zola for handing first-team opportunities to no fewer than six teenagers this season - Stanislas, Payne, Collison, Tomkins, Sears and Germany Under-20 international Savio.

"I was a West Ham supporter so my debut was special for me. I worked my socks from the age of five just to get the chance to achieve what I did on my debut. Football is about challenges and you have to respond to those challenges.

"If you are lucky enough to get into the youth set-up, which I did when I joined the club at the age of 15, then you play a year of youth football and then you might be lucky enough to play for the reserves. If you do, then you have to go to that different level and prove yourself. If you get a chance in the first-team, you have to take your chance again.

"I took my chance and I went on to have a 20-year career, but I always say that if I hadn't been given my chance, you never know what might have happened. People ask about certain players 'Is he good enough?' and I always say 'How do you know if you don't give them a chance?'.

"I'm delighted that Gianfranco has been as good as his word. He said he would give the youngsters a chance and he has given them that chance. Now it is up to them to take those opportunities. It is up to the likes of Josh and Junior, who have just broken through, to do that.

"If they can, then they can progress. I was lucky enough to play for England, which was a great thrill, and a lot of wonderful opportunities can open up for young players. They have just got to take their chances when they get them."