Zola still on track

Gianfranco Zola was pleased with his side's effort as they succumbed to a narrow defeat by Tottenham Hotspur but remain in the driving seat for seventh spot with six games left

Eight of West Ham United's matchday squad of 18 were aged 23 or under and Zola was pleased to see the way his youngsters stepped up to the challenge of a difficult derby. Having given themselves a great platform with a 2-0 home win against Sunderland last week, the manager knew it would be a sterner test on Saturday against a Spurs team that had beaten Chelsea in their previous home fixture.


Zola said: "Last week we played against a team that was in a different situation. Today was a different matter against a very good team in a derby. Junior Stanislas didn't look like he was a rookie and the same goes for James Tomkins. So I'm pleased as they are progressing and progressing very well. I know that I can rely on them whenever I need."

David Di Michele put in another tireless performance up front and was desperately unlucky to be thwarted by two good saves from Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes in the second half. His manager was pleased with the striker's all-round contribution to the team and believes he just needs a small change of fortune in front of goal.

"When Di Michele went through I thought this was the moment. But he is very unlucky right now. He is playing very well for the team and is probably one of the most important members of the team, but is not very lucky in front of the goal. Considering all the circumstances, the only thing I can say is words to praise the team."

Those "circumstances" included yet another reshuffle to accommodate Jonathan Spector's absence - after his concussion last weekend - with Lucas Neill and James Tomkins covering in a holding midfield role and at right-back respectively. Scott Parker (groin) and Radoslav Kovac (thigh) were also still out and Zola was pleased with the way his squad responded against a Spurs team minus only two first-teamers.

"I knew that the first 15 minutes of the second half would be the crucial moment. That's what we tried to do," Zola said. "We thought if we keep our composure and frustrate them then we have a good chance. We had a good chance and missed and then they had a chance and scored.

"[Roman] Pavlyuchenko scored a good goal and that was the difference about it because the team played very well. Tottenham, in my opinion, is on paper one of the six best teams in the country but my team stood up against them and played without fear. It could have easily been a point and nobody would have said anything about that."

Despite not getting the rub of the green at White Hart Lane, there were some positives elsewhere in the Barclays Premier League as other results mean West Ham United remain three points clear of their rivals in the league standings. Zola is determined to push hard for the prize of a continental campaign next season.

"We are confident, we are still three points clear and we are going to defend those points with everything we can. You can see the team is determined and together and it would be a pity if we don't [qualify] because every single game they give everything and that is very good."

One more positive to take back to east London was another valuable 20 minute run-out for Kieron Dyer. Zola is happy to see the England international edge ever closer to a first Premier League start since August 2007. "It is just a matter of physical condition, he is getting better and better and I'm looking forward to giving him more time on the pitch but that is working very well as his attitude is good and it won't be long."

Zola's thoughts will have already begun switching to next weekend's away trip to Aston Villa, where he will hope to welcome back Scott Parker from the injury which has kept him out of the last two matches. Kovac travelled to White Hart Lane and only just missed out on taking his place in the team after a late fitness test. Jack Collison and Carlton Cole could also still play a part this campaign.

"We are in that position where we can go to every single game and give our best and not feel too much pressure. So we know it is a difficult game but it is going to be difficult for them as well. I hope to have Parker back as he is an important player for us and he is getting better and better, but we want to make sure he is 100 per cent fit."