Back to business for Boro

West Ham United's players were back on the training pitch on Thursday afternoon ahead of Saturday's FA Cup fifth-round visit of Middlesbrough.

The Hammers' trio of England players - debutant Carlton Cole, Matthew Upson and Robert Green - joined manager Gianfranco Zola and their team-mates at Chadwell Heath as preparations to face Gareth Southgate's side were stepped up. Cole was all smiles after pulling on the Three Lions for the first time in Wednesday evening's 2-0 friendly defeat in Spain, a sight that left Zola feeling a sense of pride and achievement.

"It was great to see Robert, Matthew and Carlton playing for England. I am so happy for them and the club. It reflects very well on everyone and it is a very good reward for how they have been playing. All three of them did very well in a big game against good opponents. We are looking forward to giving the England squad more players in the future."

With Lucas Neill, Jack Collison, Radoslav Kovac and Zavon Hines also on international duty for Australia, Wales, Czech Republic and Jamaica respectively, the training ground was slightly less crowded than usual in midweek. By Thursday afternoon, however, all attentions had been switched back to Saturday's tie.

Despite Boro's recent struggles in the Premier League, where they have gone 13 matches without a victory, the manager knows his team need to be on their guard. However, Zola is fully confident that his players will produce the goods at the Boleyn Ground.

"I am expecting for them [Boro] it's going to be a very important match because they're obviously having a bad run in the league so for them this is a great opportunity to turn their season around. I'm expecting them to be very concentrated and prepared to go for the win.

"I saw their last game against Manchester City and they were unlucky. They played a good match but are not having a very good run and in my opinion that makes them more dangerous. It's a big match not only because it will allow us to go to the next round of an important competition but also because we lost the last game and we want to get back on track.

"I think the way the team is playing we don't fear anything and can do a good job in the FA Cup. That's the kind of attitude we'll have for the game we play on Saturday."

Should his team prevail, West Ham will be just three victories from FA Cup glory, a feeling Zola himself experienced twice during his playing career. The first occasion came in May 1997, when Chelsea beat Boro 2-0 at Wembley to leave the manager with cherished memories he will never forget.

"I remember everything about the day. I will always say that winning the FA Cup was one of the best achievements in my career and it would be fantastic to repeat it as a manager. I am very much looking forward to it."

Zola added that he and first-team coach Steve Clarke were delighted with the positive atmosphere around the club - an atmosphere that led the Hammers on a unbeaten run of eight matches before last Sunday's narrow 1-0 Premier League defeat to Manchester United.

"Steve and myself have been footballers so we know exactly what the players like and don't like. We want to set up facilities that allow them to enjoy themselves and get better. Once the players get this feeling then it's easy and it is down to them. It's nothing special. It's just we like working with them and we want to give them something to improve them and it's working really well. Hopefully we're looking forward to improving even more."

Zola also restated his ambition to lead West Ham up the Premier League table and - he hopes - into the sixth round of the FA Cup.

"I am very happy with what I am doing here. We have a project and we're still just starting what we're doing. I still have a lot to learn from the job and there's still a long way to go."