Gianfranco Zola has hailed the experienced campaigners in his squad for providing the perfect platform for his enthusiastic youngsters to shine.

In recent weeks, the homegrown Hammers have caught the eye but the manager was quick to recognise this week how his older heads had laid the foundations. Nowhere was that more in evidence than last Saturday at Aston Villa and Zola is mindful that it will be players such as Luis Boa Morte, with all his know-how and endeavour, that could prove key for belief and morale against treble-chasing Chelsea this weekend.

"Confidence helps," Zola said. "The youngsters help but it is all down to experienced players. The likes of Lucas Neil, Matthew Upson and Robert Green have been massive in establishing a kind of security for everybody. Whoever comes in now is doing OK. It is fantastic to have a team like that."

The oldest Hammer on view - by a day from David Di Michele - in the 1-1 draw at Villa Park was 33-year-old Diego Tristan, who earned the precious point with his instinctive late header. Zola admitted it was a tough afternoon for the Spanish striker against the fifth-best team in the country but that he had the last laugh when he reacted to divert Kieron Dyer's shot beyond the superb Brad Friedel.

"What can I say? It was one of those days for Diego. He has played the last four games but when you don't play for a long time like him it is normal that after the third game you have a physical problem.

"He is the only one that can play up there and he has got physical presence who can really catch attention for the defenders. That is what I was hoping for. It was good. I was very delighted for him because we need him and also for the team. He gave a point to the team which is very well deserved."

With five games to go, Zola is still targeting Europe via seventh place and looking to blood even more youngsters if the chance arises. The club are a point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham and the manager was once again thrilled to see the likes of Stanislas, Sears and the outstanding James Tomkins come to the fore. With Bondz N'Gala, Josh Payne and Zavon Hines waiting in the wings, more is to come.

"That was our target at the beginning of the season. We are just keeping on that line. Things are working very hard and we are very pleased. We have worked very hard to achieve what we have right now and we are determined to improve it. We are just delighted. When you see a project coming together so well, you just feel so good.

"[To be so high in the table] is a dream for me although obviously that was my expectation, I was hoping. When you start something new you always have ambitions, you want to achieve something important but you never know what you are going to get. Some of the players have come out of the blue. It is just good because it means the methodology we are using is working. It gives us a good base for the future."

Also giving that long-term security is Zola's willingness to extend his stay, with talks about his future going well. "A new contract is personally rewarding for me. Not just financially but it is good to see the club appreciates what you are doing and they are trying to look after us. It is such a good thing and it gives me a boost for the future."

The main immediate concern though is the visit of Chelsea and Zola is focused fully on taking three points. "I am looking forward. It is a great game and very important for us. It is going to be special and hopefully we will perform as well as we can and get points that we need right now."