Strong squad for Zola

Gianfranco Zola is more than ready for a tricky test at Newcastle United this afternoon and has the welcome headache of a strong squad at his disposal.

The manager, who has felt the benefit of the medical department's excellent efforts at injury prevention and rehabilitation this season, said: "We have Matthew Upson, Valon Behrami, Scott Parker and Lucas Neill back but the team did very well without them last week. I have a big squad to choose from. Although not everybody can play, I don't mind this problem because it means I have plenty of options."

As well as going for a fourth consecutive victory in all competitions, there is the chance to make it a half-dozen matches unbeaten on the road - the last time the team tasted defeat on their travels was at the champions Manchester United on 29 October. Zola is unsurprisingly in high spirits. "I am very pleased with the away form. The team is looking very solid and playing well.


"We are performing well. Now we are looking to continue this great run. We have a tough match but we are confident we can get a good result." With all his strikers contributing when required, Zola is also optimistic his team can find the net at St James' Park and had a special mention for Carlton Cole who has scored in each of the last three games.

"Carlton Cole likes to play for the team, he holds the ball up very well. I have noticed a few changes in the last few weeks, he is more thinking about scoring and that is something he has put into his game. He has to try to keep working the way he is working but sometimes focus a little bit more on scoring. What he is doing is very good. Hopefully he will continue like this until the end of the season."

While the transfer window rumour mill has begun to link West Ham United with many players, particularly some of the best young talent around - Zola declared he was happy with his lot for now. "When the moment comes we will look around and see if we can do something, but right now I don't really like talking about it because I want to keep the team the way it is. It's as simple as that."

What the manager is happy to discuss is the existing talent at his disposal and he emphasised his faith in Tony Carr's academy. "The project is to make a team capable of competing at high levels. Because we cannot compete by spending £200m to get them we want to get young talented players, play them and improve them. That doesn't mean that all the time we will be looking abroad. We have good young players here like Jack Collison, Freddie Sears and Mark Noble."

The manager also had a word for Herita Ilunga who "has been performing fantastically" since the day he joined in September and scored his first goal in last weekend's 3-0 win against Barnsley in the FA Cup. The manager's determination to keep his strong squad together in order to push up the table is paramount in his thoughts. That said, he is not complacent about their form.

"This month has taught me that you can't say anything because three weeks ago we were talking differently about it. It is one of those positions where now we have a little bit more confidence but not too much. We need to put a little bit more distance between us and teams behind us. Now it is improving but we don't want to lose our focus and we know we have to keep performing."