Joe Passing The Test

Glenn Roeder believes that Joe Cole's performances during West Ham's pre-season warm-up matches are proof that the young midfielder has matured as a player since returning from his World Cup finals experience with England in the summer.

The 20-year-old is enjoying an injury-free build-up to the new Premiership campaign for the first time in his professional career and has been in sparkling form during the friendly clashes against lower league opposition.

While the likes of Colchester United, Norwich City and Reading may not provide the kind of test that Cole will face in the top flight every week, the signs are still there to suggest that 2002-03 may be the season in which he fully realises the expectations that have been placed on him since such a young age.

His range of passing, movement off the ball and forward runs into the penalty area have all improved noticeably since his adventure with Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad in the far east, and Roeder is understandably excited about the part he can play in the months ahead.

"Joe has been a major influence in the pre-season games and his range of passing has been as good as I've ever seen it," says Glenn.

"I've also asked him to make chances and scoring opportunities for his team-mates, and he has done that.

"What he and everyone else has to accept is that, when you try and create a goalscoring chance, you run a higher risk of giving the ball away. That is just something we have to get on with.

"The good thing is that Joe is lowering that risk by choosing the right passing option more often. He has played the simple pass when he needs to, and tried to thread a ball through for the strikers when the time is right.

"He has also scored two excellent goals and I am confident that he can carry this form into the new season and perform when it really matters."

Another young Upton Park star, Jermain Defoe, has also earned praise from the manager after his prolific displays this summer. A goal in each of his five appearances so far has given the England under-21 striker immense confidence going into the new campaign.

"Jermain certainly knows where the net is," says Glenn. "He finds the corner of the goal with many of his shots, which makes it so much more difficult for goalkeepers to keep them out and he really is champing at the bit, looking forward to the new season."

Meanwhile, the Hammers face Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem tonight, in their final warm-up match before the Premiership opener at Newcastle United on August 19. The match is being played at Southend United's Roots Hall stadium, and new signings Edouard Cisse and Gary Breen are both likely to be involved in the action.