Busy week for Payne

Josh Payne is relishing derby duels in the coming week against Arsenal at Under-18 level and Tottenham Hotspur for the reserves as he looks to stake his first-team claim.

The cultured midfielder has made great strides of late. After an excellent pre-season, he began the campaign as captain of Tony Carr's academy side and with a regular place in Alex Dyer's second string. His form earned him a three-month loan at League One side Cheltenham Town where he played eleven games, scoring once.

"Playing at Cheltenham was decent and you get a good crowd watching you," he said, before adding that he would not mind the opportunity to have another spell in lower league football before the season is out. "I was playing in front of 5 or 6,000. I've learnt to take the good with the bad and learn from it. It really helped my development."

Having turned 18 and returned to Chadwell Heath full of confidence, Payne recognises the next step is ultimately to make an impression on Gianfranco Zola and follow the likes of Jack Collison into the senior set-up. Unsurprisingly then, the prospect of playing two games in quick succession this Saturday and next Tuesday is seen as a positive.

"We've got a big game against Arsenal this weekend for the youths on Saturday and then on Tuesday we've got Tottenham in the reserves so we'll see what happens. It's good to switch between the two levels because it is a different sort of football." Payne added that his aim is "to play at the highest point" sooner rather than later.

With that ambition in mind, he said it was a welcome step this week to get an extended run out in a behind closed-doors friendly at Fulham. "For the reserve team players in and around the first team, it was good to get the full 90 minutes. Considering it was a friendly, it was competitive so it was good."

* West Ham United Under-18s take on FA Premier Academy League Group A leaders Arsenal this Saturday at the Arsenal Training Centre at London Colney, kick off is 10.45am.