Birthday boy targets Reds

Mark Noble is eager to celebrate his birthday with victory over Liverpool on Saturday.

The West Ham United midfielder, who turned 22 on Friday, scored a scored a dramatic 93rd minute penalty to see off the Reds at the Boleyn Ground last season.

At the time, the Hammers were sat comfortably in mid-table, while Rafa Benitez's side were already out of the Premier League title race, 14 points behind leaders Manchester United.

This season, a huge amount rests on the game for both clubs, with West Ham chasing a seventh-place finish and European qualification and Liverpool still in with a chance of winning the Premier League title for the first time in their history.

"I scored the penalty and it was a good result for us," recalled the England Under-21 star. "We were mid-table at the time and there wasn't much on the game but now we've moved on and every point we pick up now is important."

Noble knows the Reds, who have scored 35 goals in their last eleven matches, will be desperate to make amends for last season's defeat.

"This is probably the only year since I've been playing that Liverpool are up there challenging. You look at them this season and they look very strong.

"They don't have too many weak links in their team. They've competed right through and stayed on Manchester United's heels all that time which is a credit to them."

While Liverpool will go top of the table with a win, West Ham could strengthen their grip on seventh spot with victory themselves, with rivals Manchester City, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur facing tough-looking fixtures against Manchester United, Aston Villa and Everton respectively.

Noble, one of eight Academy graduates to appear for the first-team this season, believes West Ham's young guns can fire the Hammers into Europe, an experience he thinks will be hugely beneficial to every player at the club.

"We have a lot of young players at the club now and there are more to come. I know some people are sceptical about the new Europa League but as a squad, that is what we're aiming at.

"We're progressing all the time. Last season we would have probably drawn last weekend's match at Stoke but we won it. I think that proves we are fully tuned and we want to qualify for Europe.

"It would be great for the club and exciting for me because I haven't played there yet for West Ham and I'm hungry to do that.

"Lucas Neill has said four more points will give us that seventh spot and I probably agree with him. We've looked at the other teams around us but we have to concentrate on ourselves and pick up points in these last three games.

"It's quite a tough run-in but we want those points on the board."

One player who has proved invaluable to the club during the absence through injury of England striker Carlton Cole has been former Spain forward Diego Tristan, who has scored twice in his last three games and led the line superbly.

Noble, for one, has been impressed with the form and commitment of Tristan, who joined the club on a free transfer in November.

"It would be easy for a player like Diego to come here, sign a contract for a year and think 'I've already done it in my career and maybe take it a bit easy. The manager [Gianfranco Zola] though, is on to Diego constantly, saying 'Diego, come on', because he knows what he can do.

"He may not be the most athletic person now but he knows where the goal is. I dread to think what we would have done if we hadn't had Diego while Carlton Cole has been injured. He's been a revelation."