Hayden Mullins has spoken about how "everything is looking upwards" at West Ham United as he reflected on the pride of being made captain last time out.
The midfielder was handed the armband in last weekend's 3-0 win against Barnsley, having been just one of a number of West Ham players who have impressed since the arrival of Gianfranco Zola in September. The Reading-born player was quick to pay tribute to the manager's influence both on and off the pitch, while also thanking 'Mister' for entrusting him with the captaincy for the visit of Simon Davey's side.
"The manager has come in and freshened a lot of things up," Mullins said, as he and the rest of the squad looked forward to Newcastle United on Saturday and the chance to make it six games unbeaten on the road. "Training is brilliant. We've got a new shape we're working on and a lot of it is coming off. In the last couple of weeks people have seen the Portsmouth result and the Stoke result and then the win over Barnsley.
"It's something we're building on. It wasn't quite going for us a couple of weeks ago but now it's turning round and everything's looking upwards. We're going higher up in the league and are trying to win as many games as we can and that's a tribute to the manager.
"[To be captain in the absence of Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson] was a bit of a shock and a bit of a surprise but it's always nice to captain the team and I'm just glad he gave me the armband. There were a couple more options for him but for him to trust me like he did, I'm very grateful."
Having skippered the Hammers to a victory that set up a fourth round trip to League One Hartlepool United, the 29-year-old is now setting his sights on a run to the final. After missing out on the club's appearance in the 2006 final through suspension, the club's second longest-serving player is aiming to make up for that disappointment by appearing in this year's showpiece at Wembley.
"I'm very pleased. This is a competition that we've targeted to try and get as far as we can in. We know that getting to the final is a realistic target like it proved in 2006 so we're just desperate to get as far as we can in this competition.
"I think the boys approached it very professionally. It potentially could have been a banana skin for us. They're a decent side and a team that we respected. We knew that if we weren't on our game that they would cause us problems like they did in the first half but we played well, got the goals at the vital times and that showed in a 3-0 win."
While goals from Herita Ilunga, Mark Noble and Carlton Cole gave the final scoreline a comfortable appearance, Mullins admitted he and his team-mates had been pushed hard by the Championship side at the Boleyn Ground. As such, the defensive midfielder was pleased with how the Hammers matched the Tykes' workrate before their Premier League class told in the shape of three well-taken goals.
"It was very important. One thing we knew that they would come here and work very hard as all the teams in the Championship do. We knew that if we weren't on our game and we didn't match them there could have been an upset. We matched their workrate and our football showed in the end which would always happen if we matched their workrate. We're just happy we're in the next round."
Another player who has found his best form under Zola is Cole, who has struck three goals in his last three matches. Mullins himself has been impressed by the popular striker's efforts, joking that his recent goalscoring exploits would spare him the inevitable ribbing that is part and parcel of every dressing room.
"If he keeps scoring he'll be alright. He's got a bit of stick off the boys lately but everyone likes Carlton. He's a bubbly character and we know how hard he tries for the team and we let him know he's a valuable member of the team and if he keeps banging them in he'll be doing very well."