Steve Potts has been encouraged by the form of his much-changed West Ham United U18s in recent weeks.

With a number of U21s out on loan, Potts' Academy side has lost a number of players to the Development Squad, leaving the U18s boss to blood a number of schoolboys.

However, the changes have not affected the Hammers' form, with the youth team going top of Barclays U18 Premier League South following a 2-0 win at Fulham on Saturday.

"Credit to the boys because they deserve all the praise they have got recently," said the former West Ham defender. "The effort they have been putting into their training and the games has seen them get their rewards. I've been really pleased with them.

"The pleasing thing has been that we've kept winning, despite having to make lots of changes to the team. I had quite a settled team at the start of this season, but lately openings have appeared for the schoolboys.

"On Saturday at Fuham, I had three schoolboys starting alongside four first-year scholars and four second-years, so I had quite a young team against a good side. They did well to do what they did."

The U18s' win at Fulham was their fifth in succession and ninth in ten league games. During that run, West Ham have scored 23 goals and conceded just seven, pleasing Potts still further.

However, he was quick to point out that there is a big jump between U18 and Barclays Premier League football.

"I think the lads are just working really well for each other as a group. All I am looking for is for them to keep improving individually and as a team.

"They have got to make a lot of improvements to make it to first-team level and show that desire to want to improve. The day they don't show that desire is the day they are going to struggle, I think, but the way it has gone so far has been pleasing.

"They are at a level now which is a good standard, but they're not at the standard to go into the first team, and that's what they need to get into their heads. They've done OK so far, but they have a long way to go."

A number of U18s have been playing U21 football in recent weeks, including Kyle Knoyle, Lewis Page, Reece Burke, Kieran Bywater and Josh Cullen and Potts has been happy with their contribution at that higher and more physical level.

"I took the game against Southampton earlier this month and I went to the game against Reading on Monday and the boys coped with it very well, which was pleasing.

"It was interesting to see, because they have done well in the youth team and you want them to go to the next level and see how they perform. They held their own and hopefully there will be more of the U18s pushing in there, because that's what it's all about."

Potts saw Burke make his first-team debut at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup with Budweiser third round in January, and now his ambition is to see one of his charges graduate to make a debut in the Barclays Premier League.

"That's why we're all here - to try to get the boys up to that level and in the first team. That will be a real buzz, I must admit, and it will be nice for it to happen.

"It's tough and a lot tougher than it was years ago with all the money in the Premier League and a lot of foreign players here, so you've got to be special to get in there.

"You don't get there without a lot of hard work and I've got a group who know how to work hard and that's the main thing. They need to keep doing what they're doing."

The U18s have a free weekend coming up, but Potts' side will return to action at Arsenal on Saturday 8 March.