Manager still looking upwards

Alan Curbishley is confident West Ham United can still mount a strong challenge on the leading contenders in the Premier League with 13 games left to play this season.

The club sit just seven points behind seventh spot with a game in hand and have the chance to recharge before the trip to Fulham on 23 February. Despite last week's 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic and Saturday's 1-1 draw at home to Birmingham City, there is every chance of moving up the league next time out and staying within striking distance of the leading pack.

"We all think it is in our grasp," the manager said. "The players are really disappointed. We have got to pick ourselves up when we go to Fulham which will be a really tough game again. Last week, the results went for us and perhaps this week they didn't. We have got to start winning our games.

"We have got a little bit of a break now and it will do a few of them some good - especially [England's Matthew] Upson. I am hoping that after a couple of days rest, they can come back recharged and get going again. The players that have been playing have done fantastically well. I know everyone is disappointed but we have got 37 points. What they have achieved so far with the problems we have had shouldn't go unnoticed and perhaps it has a little bit."

Curbishley was also clear that Dean Ashton's efforts to get back to his best should also not go unnoticed - having missed the whole of last season with an ankle injury and then returned to fitness after a brief setback with his knee this campaign . "He has done well to get where he is," he said. "It was a big injury, he has worked ever so hard at it. Sometimes players can be affected by team selection, can be affected by the way the team's playing, results, scoring goals.

"This year, he came in roughly after the first couple of games, played three or four. Then he hurt his knee up at Aston Villa and missed five or six weeks. I don't think I have done such a bad job in terms of bringing him back and easing him in. We have all got to get on with it. I have one or two players there who are not quite happy with what they have produced and we just have to roll our sleeves up for the next game."

Curbishley added that both Ashton and Carlton Cole have "played a lot of football" in recent weeks, and hoped to have extra forward firepower in future. Julien Faubert came on as a substitute on Saturday, having got through a practice game last Monday. He also reiterated that Scott Parker "has been running fully this week contrary to stories last week", before adding that Craig Bellamy's fitness is to be assessed further with the striker "still feeling this abdominal strain" after he and Bobby Zamora, returning himself from a knee injury, scored in Monday's friendly.

"We will see where we will go. We have just played Wigan and Birmingham, expectation levels were that we would pick the points up and push ourselves right in there but it isn't like that - it is very tough the Premier League. The last two games we haven't done enough." Recognising that the club's solid position in the table has meant "the expectation level has changed a little bit" for fans and players alike, Curbishley pledged that "we are all working hard at it".