Youth set-up in spotlight

The senior side may not be playing this weekend but the Under-18s will be back in action against Crystal Palace at Little Heath.

Tony Carr's side welcome their London rivals at 11am on Saturday looking to maintain their good progress this season. The U18s are fifth in their eleven-team section of the Premier Academy League and a good result against Palace could potentially take them up to third - although the key role of the youth team as Carr has said is "about the development of the individual player" rather than league position.

While the excellent progress of the club's young England hopefuls - Jordan Spence, Junior Stanislas, James Tomkins and Freddie Sears - has been well documented this season, along with the form of new Wales U21 recruit Jack Collison, other young Hammers are making their mark. Among them are Republic of Ireland U19 defender Lorcan Fitzgerald and young Northern Ireland U17 midfielder Danny Kearns.

Fitzgerald, as captain, was at the heart of the Irish squad that took part in the qualifying round of the 2008 U19 European Championship this month. Wearing the No6 shirt, he played in all three games in the four-team mini-tournament as his side just missed out on qualification for the elite round next Spring behind hosts Portugal and Belarus.

Kearns had better luck, playing the full 90 minutes in each of Northern Ireland's three qualifying round games for the 2008 U17 European Championship. The side were 3-0 winners against Moldova, with midfielder Kearns making the first goal, before a 1-0 success against Montenegro. Qualification for the elite round early next year was secured with a 1-0 defeat of mini-tournament hosts Belgium when the Hammers youngster was again the provider for the decisive strike. The eight-nation finals will be played in Turkey next May.