Zola feeling positive

Gianfranco Zola is in confident mood ahead of Saturday's Barclays Premier League visit of Sunderland to the Boleyn Ground.

The West Ham United manager is optimistic the Hammers can still finish seventh in the table and secure a place in next season's inaugural UEFA Europa League - with the help and backing of the club's supporters.

Zola, whose team will look to complete a league double over the Black Cats, will welcome central defenders Matthew Upson and James Collins and forward Savio back into his first-team squad after the trio recovered from calf, hamstring and knee injuries respectively. England forward Kieron Dyer is also eager for more first team action after making a late substitute appearance in the 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers.

However, the manager will be without injured midfielders Valon Behrami and Jack Collison, while striker Carlton Cole faces six weeks on the sidelines with a groin injury. Midfielder Radoslav Kovac also faces a race to be fit as he bids to shrug off a thigh problem while Scott Parker, his central midfield partner in recent weeks, is hoping to overcome a minor groin problem in time to take his place.

With his team unbeaten in four Premier League matches - during which time they have conceded just one goal - Zola firmly believes the Hammers have what it takes to secure victory over Ricky Sbragia's side and push on for a top-seven finish.

"That's what I hope. We have some young players who are growing up very well and will have more chances. I'm confident. I'm very, very confident because it's a good moment. There is a good atmosphere and sometimes these moments can surprise you with things that were missing on the pitch. I'm always very confident and positive. We need the help of our supporters. This is a moment when they have to back us a lot and, with that, we can get through it."

With the three first-team players out injured, one could forgive Zola for lowering his expectations this season. However, the optimistic Italian has challenged the club's youngsters to take their chance and aid the Hammers' push for a European place.

"We've always had something to deal with, but I like this because this situation makes me think more and gives the others more responsibilities. It's a problem that makes everybody better if we take it in the right way. I am personally not going to sit and cry for those who are missing. Obviously I do respect them as they are very important players for the team but we need to react to this situation and make the most out of it. That's my philosophy and I'm sure the team will react."

With Cole and fellow England striker Dean Ashton ruled out, Zola laughed off suggestions that he may dust off his own boots and take to the field as a player - four years after playing his last competitive game for Serie B side Cagliari.

"Don't say that twice or I might listen to you! No, I'm sure we will cope without that. It's a pity really because we have a good chance here and obviously if we had everybody available it would be interesting to see where this team could have got. But it's ok. It's more difficult but the idea is still to try and push for seventh spot.

"We're going to try. Obviously the possibilities are less than they were before.... but we're still going to have a go. Especially when we play our games at home, it will be important that the crowd supports us. They have to understand that the team needs a bit of support. I still believe it and that's why I'm here and pushing everybody. This team is stronger than many people may think."