Former Hammers hero Tony Cottee has been keeping a close eye on fellow striker Zavon Hines as he has turned in some impressive displays this season.

Hines has caught the eye after starting West Ham United's last three games, having earned his call-up following a goalscoring appearance in the second round of the Carling Cup and a hat-trick for the reserves. Cottee was at the Boleyn Ground to watch the 20-year-old bag his treble against Birmingham City and was instantly impressed by what he saw.

"Looking back to that reserve game [a 6-0 win against Birmingham City] everyone was talking about [Alessandro] Diamanti and the return of [Valon] Behrami but I left the ground that night very excited about what I had seen from Zavon.

"He had already scored the goal against Millwall, which I thought was a really good finish. You could see the confidence that came after scoring that goal. I think the challenge then for Zavon was to get into the team and to stay in the team."

Hines soon cleared that first hurdle as he was given his full Barclays Premier League debut at Wigan Athletic on 12 September. Two more appearances against Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers have followed and Cottee believes Hines has done enough so far to retain his place at Manchester City on Monday.

"Although I wasn't at the Wigan game, I spoke to Tony Gale and he said that he had done really well for a full debut in the Premier League. Although it was a disappointing result, he was one of our best players.

"I was at the Liverpool game and I thought he was our best player. He gave Glen Johnson a tough time and looked dangerous with some of his skills. He did everything right in the first couple of minutes apart from putting his chance it in the net. It might well have changed the game.

"And then, by all accounts, he did well at Bolton the other night. I felt that the challenge that lay ahead for him was to get in the team and stay in the team and I am really thrilled for the lad that he's got in there and he's taken his chance. He looks like a real prospect."

As with any of the Academy youngsters making their bow in the first team, there is always a certain air of uncertainty about how they will adapt to the jump to top-flight football. Cottee believes Hines has shown enough so far to indicate he wil not look too far out of place in the Barclays Premier League.

"I do get a bit frustrated when people say 'I didn't realise how good he was going to be' or 'I wasn't expecting him to do that'. You can watch a kid in the youth team or the reserve team but you just don't know how they are going to do until they get that chance.

"The real positive for me about Gianfranco Zola's first year in charge is that he has given the kids a chance. They have had the opportunity to get into the team and express themselves and, when they have done well, they have stayed in the team and that's the real positive. I think it's great the kids from our wonderful Academy are being given a chance."

Like Cottee, Hines has progressed through the youth ranks at Little Heath under the watchful eye of Academy Director Tony Carr. Now, the seven-times capped England international believes that Hines may benefit from being nurtured in the same way he was during his formative years under John Lyall.

"Zavon has done really well. It's early days yet but he's made a fantastic start to his career. From his performances it looks like mentally he is right to stay in the team but it may be similar to what John Lyall did with me.

"When I got in the team as a 17-year-old and then as an 18-year-old the following season, John seemed to play me for six to ten games and then perhaps I got a bit tired and it didn't quite go for me so he took me out for three or four games and then put me back in the team.

"He did that for my first 18 months of my career and then at the start of what was my third season, I started every game. I know it's different now and it's a squad game but at the moment you can't put the reigns on him. You've got to say 'Off you go' and let him carry on with what he's doing."