Mark Noble knows a thing or two about what it takes to successfully graduate from the Academy of Football to the West Ham United first team.

The reigning Hammer of the Year is now approaching 250 appearances for the club, having made his reserve-team debut at the age of 15 and his first-team bow just three months past his 17th birthday.

Still just 25, Noble has seen a host of home-grown players follow him into the first team - most notably Jack Collison, James Tomkins, Jordan Spence, Rob Hall and Dan Potts. This season, the next group of hopefuls have started to make their mark, with George Moncur, Matthias Fanimo and Dylan Tombides making their debuts and Leo Chambers, Callum Driver and Paul McCallum all being named on the substitutes' bench by Sam Allardyce.

The Development Squad and Under-18s regularly train with the first team, giving Noble and his team-mates a first-hand look at the club's promising youngsters.

With the Ian Hendon's side six points clear at the top of the Barclays U21 Premier League Group 1 table, the No16 is excited about the future of the club.

"I think Jordan, Moncs, Hally, Matthias, young Leo - who has travelled with us to the last two Premier League games and been on the bench - and the others are doing well," said Noble.

"If they keep on grafting, don't let it go to their heads when they travel with the first team and put it in when they play for the Development Squad, then they will keep enjoying it and keep moving forward.

"We have got a good crop of young players and they will soon be pushing the seniors for their places. The Premier League is obviously a tough league to come into - I learnt that as a 17-year-old that it's a tough ask and you've got to be mentally capable to do that - but hopefully they can keep pushing us."

Shirts

Perhaps more than at any other club, the Boleyn Ground faithful love nothing more than seeing one of their own graduate to the first team.

Noble, Collison, Tomkins et al have received huge support whenever they have pulled on the claret and blue shirt, and the midfielder said it gives them all a huge boost to hear the roar of the crowd behind them.

The lifelong West Ham fan is looking forward to hearing more from his fellow supporters when he takes to the field against Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City on Saturday.

"It's so important to have that support, particularly when things aren't going well. You're not always going to be two or three-nil up at half-time - it's not going to work out like that.

"We all need the fans behind us from kick-off until the final whistle because it only takes a second or two to score a goal. Every little bit of noise and encouragement that they give us helps us massively so I hope they carry on with the support they have given us this year because it's been fantastic."

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