Manager on Monday

Alan Curbishley is preparing for next Sunday's trip to Blackburn Rovers in positive mood despite the disappointment of a narrow weekend reverse at Chelsea.

While the club's six-game unbeaten run has come to a halt after Joe Cole's strike settled the London derby, Curbishley was pleased his side had demonstrated from front to back the competitive edge required in such contests - especially as 69 teams had tried and failed before to take the points at Stamford Bridge. "Since I have been at the club we have had some local derbies and we have not treated them right," he said.

"You need to - you have got to put that effort in. I have got a lot of positives from the game, the only negative is that perhaps we got ourselves in that final third and with a little bit more care, a little bit more quality, a little bit more composure - we may have fashioned something." Dismissing suggestions of an over-physical approach, he added: "You have to perhaps cause them a few problems to get a foothold in the game which is what we did."

Although admitting it was a "soft goal" to concede, Curbishley hailed his rearguard for their display. Indeed, only Liverpool in the top flight, with two goals against, have conceded fewer as a club than the five suffered by West Ham United this campaign in seven away days. "I said to the back five before the game they have probably been the most constant thing at the club this season. It has stayed intact. Our goal difference is terrific. It is worth a point at the moment and I think they showed why."

That 'plus seven' goal difference could prove crucial as Curbishley's tenth-placed side contemplate "a tough month". The manager has said rotation will need to come into his thoughts to keep his players fresh for all the challenges ahead - including a home Carling Cup quarter-final against Everton and, following yesterday's draw, the FA Cup third-round visit of Manchester City.

He said: "I have said to the players: 'the squad's getting a little bit stronger. People are going to come in and go out and we can't remain the same'. I have got one or two players coming back which is making the squad stronger." The likes of Mark Noble and Lee Bowyer are among those itching to return, while Dean Ashton will hope to follow Scott Parker and earn a starting berth - potentially alongside Carlton Cole.

"We will now push on. Dean is probably OK - he's not far off it. I decided to play 4-3-3/4-5-1 and Coley was more suited to that as he showed. I have got Freddie Ljungberg back and Scott Parker has got through. The spirit they have shown has probably been borne on the fact they have all been put in there and they have all given everything they have got. The fans appreciate it as well because we have given it a bit of a go."