Manager on Monday

Gianfranco Zola has reiterated that his young players have every chance of proving themselves in the game - provided they "work hard everyday and keep the right attitude".

In a week when his homegrown Hammers were rightly in the spotlight for lifting the club back up to seventh place, much of the weekend focus at White Hart Lane was on James Tomkins, Junior Stanislas, Freddie Sears and Mark Noble. Despite a 1-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur, the manager believed his crop of youngsters had shown they have every chance of one day living up to previous academy graduates .

"We will see in time," said Zola. "I believe that when Rio [Ferdinand], [Frank] Lampard or Joe Cole were coming through, they were just promising. Then they improved. It is just down to my players. If they work hard everyday and keep the right attitude, they can do that.

"I believe that everybody owns their own destiny. When I was started there were a few that said I wouldn't become a player but they didn't know my attitude and my mentality. I believe my players have the same attitude and they can become important players."

Despite media attention on comments from outside the club, Zola said he paid little attention. "I will use other things to motivate my players," he explained. "If they push themselves hard and they believe in what they are doing they are going to get beyond the limits that maybe people are putting on them right now.

"I would like to say that if they achieve something it is down to me but it is not like that. I can only show them the direction but after that they have to move on and it is all totally down to them. As far as I am concerned I will always be there showing them the line, but the work is down to them."

Where Zola will be working is on his strikeforce, with his defence still standing strong after conceding just twice in six games. He paid tribute to the efforts of Diego Tristan in leading the attack - especially in the absence of Carlton Cole and, since he arrived in September, Dean Ashton. Zola said: "Diego has done very well, it is not easy. This is the third game he has played of 90 minutes, more or less … you have to be understanding with him.

"We have played all season without Dean Ashton When Ashton is back it is going to be a huge thing for the club. We hope he will get a full pre-season. The [ankle] operation went well and he is doing very well. We are looking forward to having him back at his best."

For now, the emphasis is on those able to play in the final half-dozen games and defending a one-point lead on Fulham and a further two-point advantage on Tottenham Hotspur. Zola said finishing seventh, particularly above Spurs, would be "a big achievement for us considering also the kind of players they have in their team. It would be huge.

"The good thing about football is that it is not always down to money. You play against a team who has spent so much money and honestly West Ham stood up against them. That makes me very proud."

He acknowledged the impact made by match-winner Roman Pavyluchenko on Saturday after a difficult spell since his arrival in London, unlike the easy transition he himself had, first as a player and then in taking the reins at West Ham. He said he had arrived in an "environment which was perfect" and where "everything fell into place". Like his young players, the young manager has every chance of going all the way.