Gianfranco Zola has praised Matthew Etherington ahead of West Ham United's weekend trip to face the winger's new employers Stoke City.

The 27-year-old Etherington made 195 appearances for West Ham between August 2003 and January 2009, scoring 18 goals. He joined the Potters on 8 January, having moved to the Boleyn Ground from Tottenham Hotspur five-and-a-half years previously.

As has been the case for many former players this season, Etherington is set to get a good reception from the travelling Hammers support in recognition of his loyal service that included the Hammer of the Year award at the end of his first campaign. However, after a stop-start first half of the season, Zola said the transfer window move was the best for all parties, especially as he could not guarantee first-team football.

"I think he needed to go," Zola said. "He needed to have a new experience away from here. It is simple as that. He did very well for me, especially at the beginning. Then he got injured and he had a few problems but he is a good player and I am not surprised he has done well for Stoke."

Etherington was equally positive about his former manager. "He has shown he can be a top manager, he's done a brilliant job," the winger said. "When he first came in they weren't sure whether they'd be in a relegation battle or end up where they are now, so he's done really well."