Manager praises midfield marvel

West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola has spoken about the progress made by the "awesome" Jack Collison in recent weeks.

The manager has watched the young Welsh international become an integral part of his starting lineup, and will hope for a similar impact on Sunday against Stoke City as was seen in the 4-1 success against Portsmouth on Friday. Collison scored a goal and had a hand in two others at Fratton Park, to leave the manager more than impressed with his mature display.

Speaking of his 20-year-old, who showed up well on the left of a youthful midfield with an average age of 23, Zola said: "Jack was awesome. He is performing very well but apart from the performance, the confidence and the personality he is showing on the pitch is outstanding.

"He looks like he has been playing at this level for years and I am very pleased with him. He has improved so much since we started working with him and I am very happy. I am very happy that we are able to give young players like him a chance to play."

It was not only Collison who earned praise, with the entire starting eleven and the substitutes - Julien Faubert, Luis Boa Morte and Diego Tristan - all playing their part. In particular, Robert Green did his best to put off Jermain Defoe from the penalty spot and constantly thwarted his strike partner Peter Crouch. "Everyone was terrific. Robert Green has been so consistent. He deserves all the credit he has been getting."

The Christmas period could see the club move to within striking distance of the top eight, provided there is no sense of complacency against Stoke. Tony Pulis's side will be determined to build on their outstanding display - despite defeat - against the champions Manchester United on Boxing Day but Zola knows what is at stake for his own men as well. There is the chance to start looking up rather than down.

"You can pick up so many points and you can change your season. Hopefully it is going to be like that for us. We can take off and play a very good season. Fair to the players, they have been training so well and that makes me very positive."

While Portsmouth were perhaps hard done by the emphatic scoreline, the manager said it was richly deserved after recent weeks when luck has deserted his team. "That is what we have been talking in the dressing room. It tells you everything about the game. Sometimes it is not logical.

"I don't think Friday was our best performance. We have played much better at other times and come away with nothing. It might be seen that things are changing around for us."