Zola pointing the way forward

Gianfranco Zola is all too aware of the challenge posed by Bolton Wanderers on Saturday but is confident his West Ham United side can rise to the occasion.

Zola was just four games into his reign as manager when Gary Megson's men won 3-1 at the Boleyn Ground in October. The Hammers have evolved as a team since then, however, and go into the match on a lengthy undefeated away run that stretches back to 29 October - just over three weeks since that reverse fixture in east London.

"It's going to be a tough match," Zola said. "They are a tough team to play against and this occasion may be a little tougher. But we are going there to do a job and to get the three points that will be vital for us. We will give them all of the respect but we will play our game and try to win. We have quite a good record away from home so it's an opportunity for us to extend our record away from home in a tough match. It's a very important test for me."

West Ham may have to do without Carlton Cole, who had to leave the field against Middlesbrough with a bruised ankle. The Hammers' leading scorer this season has been hard at work at Chadwell Heath, although the game may have come too soon for him.

"Carlton Cole, is making very good progress but we don't know if he's going to be available for this match or the match against Middlesbrough. He is working very hard and is getting better. Luis Boa Morte is going to be out for two or three weeks due to a groin problem and Lucas Neill is suspended. Apart from that everyone else is available"

If the England international does not recover sufficiently in time for the trip to the north-west, then Zola has faith in the rest of his players, with James Tomkins and Valon Behrami fit again and January recruits Savio and Radoslav Kovac itching for their first starts. "We have enough without Carlton. This team has been doing well because of Carlton but also because of the other players. They have all been very good and I'm sure if Carlton cannot make it, the rest of the team will give an extra bit and we will make sure we will do the job."

With West Ham having the chance to move up to seventh in the Barclays Premier League should they secure a first win at the Reebok, the manager might be forgiven for getting a little carried away. He is determined though to keep his mind focused only on the short-term tasks in hand.

"At the beginning of the season we were looking to improve the position we had last season and so far we are right there. As I said before, as soon as we get the first target out of the way we are going to try to get another objective. It is important that if we still have games available we try to achieve something more. First let me get my first target and then we can talk about the next one."

It is not just the team that have gone through something of an evolution, though, as several players have thrived under Zola's guidance. One of those is Jack Collison, who at just 20 years of age has started West Ham's last 12 matches. It was fittingly at Bolton last April where Collison had his first start in the senior set-up.

"He has been outstanding," Zola said of the Wales international. "Not only in the way he plays and the way he has improved but also the personality that he has shown. You can play a good or a bad match but you can see when a player has got personality and is willing to give everything every game and he has been fantastic for me. He is a player that is going to become a very important player in this country for a long time."

Zola has further reason to be cheerful with a squad consisting of settled, committed players including Scott Parker. "We are very proud here at West Ham to have kept players like Scott. It means that we are doing a good job and that the players believe in what we are doing. He likes what we're doing here and he is committed and that is a very positive sign that we are going the right way."