Upson on the up

Matthew Upson believes West Ham United's defensive strength can carry the Hammers into next season's UEFA Europa League.

Gianfranco Zola's team have conceded just two goals in their last six Premier League matches. A similarly impressive record over the final half-dozen league matches of the season should see West Ham gather enough points to ensure they finish in the top-seven, securing European qualification in the process.

Upson, who is well-known for his in-depth interest in the finer points of the game, said there was no coincidence behind the Hammers' consistent defensive performances.

"We are looking very strong tactically and positionally," he said. "We have done a lot of work and people's awareness is good. Not only are we challenging for the ball well but people are in the right positions.

"Without a doubt there is a science to it in terms of awareness and positional sense and if you get those things right it makes everything a bit easier."

West Ham's impressive rearguard were at their best again at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, when only a superbly-taken second half goal from Russia international Roman Pavlyuchenko proved to be the difference between the two sides.

Upson and central defensive partner James Collins - back in the team following a hamstring injury - were as resolute as ever, while James Tomkins looked comfortable in an unaccustomed role at right-back.

"They didn't really create a lot. If you look at the possession stats we probably didn't do too well but that's not what the game is about. It's about the scoreline.

"Looking at the goal-scoring opportunities, there were very few of them. I thought we had the best chance of the match but unfortunately we didn't take it. It was a huge turning point, but we have to move on.

"There was no grey area. There was always going to be one moment that decided the game. Pavlyuchenko did well to drag his shot through Ginge's legs. James didn't get the wrong side of him or anything - it was just a great finish.

"As a young lad coming in and playing out of position at full-back, Tomka did well. It shows how far he has come. He uses the ball well and his future looks bright."

Upson will hope to celebrate his 30th birthday on Saturday with victory at Aston Villa. As a former Birmingham City player, the centre-back is sure to receive a warm welcome at Villa Park, where he could face the very different challenges of target-men John Carew and Emile Heskey and young speedsters Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor.

"It's another big test. We go there missing quite a lot of players, so our strength in depth is being really tested. I think we've come through it really well and the players that have come in have done a good job. We can go there and get a result."