Gianfranco Zola has pledged his team will continue to show the spirit that defeated Stoke City in the final three games standing between West Ham United and Europe.

A sublime 33rd-minute free-kick from Diego Tristan settled a hugely competitive contest at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday and left Zola's men back in seventh spot - the position required to earn a UEFA Europa League place next season. "It was great result," said the manager. "In the first half we played with quality and we played some good football. The goal was an example of that.

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"In the second half, we knew they were coming back and I knew it would be more difficult for us because you can't pretend to play the same level throughout the game. So we knew we had to concede something to them but even in those moments we never gave up and came out with the three points."

Few neutral observers would have predicted the impact Zola and his staff would have had when he took over back in September. Zola, who is thinking only of the future in east London with the ink barely dry on a new four-year contract, is keen to keep on confounding the experts though. "It is good. W are very happy to surprise people and we are working every day to make it happen.

"Defensively we are very good and this was another display of that but we have been like that for a long time. I am delighted." He also paid tribute to the squad with Radoslav Kovac coming back in for his first start in the absence of Kieron Dyer, with a hamstring problem, and Jack Collison back on the bench for the unwell Savio.

"There is a fantastic atmosphere right now at the club - so everybody who comes in is committed, really has the desire to achieve and what can I say. I am delighted. With these conditions you can really achieve many things.

"We always give the players a focus and they know we are fighting for Europe. We want to get to that position so everybody is very much committed to not giving anything away and it is as simple as that. It is about the desire of the players, and the willingness to be there and competitive is making the difference.

"We are going to be competing to the end. We might make it, we might not but we are going to give it our best shot."

Regarding Stoke and the way they use the long throws of Rory Delap to start many attacks, Zola said his team were well prepared. He added that there was no specific advice about avoiding giving throw-ins away. "It is very difficult to say that to the players otherwise they might not play, they might not challenge the players when they had to."

Instead, the rearguard stood firm with the goalkeeper and back four again equal to everything thrown at them. "Robert Green has been excellent. I can't remember one mistake. His standard has always been high and it just gives you such confidence. That is the best I can say about my goalkeeper. The resilience of the team and the willingness not to concede anything is that I keep praising. They are simply amazing.

"We knew what the task was so we have been working on that. I think it is more the awareness and the desire to win that was the difference. We knew the way we prepare we could handle these situations. We just had to have confidence."

He also was not worried about the towel tactic deployed by Delap to get further distance on his throw-ins - something that Lucas Neill himself did on one occasion in the second half with a touch of good humour - before the referee called time on the towel. "We didn't object," said Zola when asked if he had requested the ban. "There was a lot of time lost with that and it is OK when you are winning!"

Should his team keep on picking up points, the European dream will be on although next week's visit of Liverpool will be a stern challenge. "Even before the game we were eighth and we never lost focus. We think it is in our possibilities and we are going to try hard until the end. That's for sure. The players want that and they want to play until the end of the season.

"I realise [Europe could be] a big task but I know also that I have so many young players and to play in Europe would be a big thing for them. It would improve them very much. I go for that way, although I know it would be difficult. Obviously I was dreaming to do a good job [this season] but I wasn't expecting to be like this. It has gone very well."