Future bright for Zola

Gianfranco Zola is relishing seeing what his exciting crop of young players can do as the club head to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday pushing hard for a top-seven finish.

The manager has lost the services of some key players of late but sees that as an opportunity to gain greater understanding of the talent he could have at his disposal for years to come.

Already this season, six Academy graduates - namely Mark Noble, James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Kyel Reid, Junior Stanislas and Freddie Sears - have played under Zola, while goalkeeper Marek Stech, defender Bondz 'Gala and versatile Josh Payne have all made it to the bench.

Add to that Zavon Hines, the 20-year-old forward who made a goalscoring debut in the League Cup last August, and the likes of 19-year-old Savio, the 22-year-old Jonathan Spector and even Valon Behrami and Walter Lopez, who are both still only 23, and the future looks bright for the manager.

However, Zola is anxious not to put too much pressure on his young charges. He said: "The young players are an important part of the project we are taking forward but we need to use them at the right time and at the right moment. We have got a clear idea of what we are going to do.

"I have seen a few new players so I can have a better idea of what they can give me and also where they need to improve. I am going to be working on that and it is important for me for the future."

The man of the moment is perhaps Tomkins, with the 19-year-old centre-back having more than played his part in the clean sheets the Hammers have kept in their last three Premier League fixtures.

The England Under-19 defender has slotted in at the heart of the back-four following an injury to James Collins and has hardly put a foot wrong, greatly impressing his manager.

Zola added: "He has been doing very well James. He is young but he is at the same time very mature. He looks very composed and I am very pleased with his performance. He is improving very much."