Hopeful for Hull

Gianfranco Zola has the good news of being able to recall Carlton Cole for Saturday's "massive" game at Hull City.

The West Ham United manager will welcome back top scorer Cole to his starting XI after a slight hamstring problem suffered against Aston Villa on 4 November. The England forward has scored 13 goals in his last 23 league outings and could partner either Guillermo Franco or Zavon Hines up front.

The return of Cole will provide a big lift for the KC Stadium encounter and Zola is backing him to demonstrate once again his dedication to the West Ham United cause.

"We are scoring more than we did last year and we are improving," he said. "Carlton Cole is important for this team, not only because he scores goals but also for the present.

"I know that Carlton Cole wants to play here, he is happy here and I know the club has got no intention to sell any of our important players. We are going to help him keep scoring the way he is scoring."

One player who will be definitely missing is Alessandro Diamanti, who is ruled out with a slight hip injury, while a late decision was being made on Herita Ilunga's involvement. Kieron Dyer and Danny Gabbidon have trained this week but it remains to be seen if they will feature.

Zola added: "Kieron has been back this week to train and is doing very well. The problem is he struggles to keep the fitness a long time. I'm hoping this time will be the one as he is a player that can give us something."

With West Ham knowing a win could take them above their hosts on Saturday and as high as 15th in the Premier League table, the importance of the match is clear.

"It is a massive game not only for the points, but for the confidence and for many reasons. The good thing is that all the players know that and I know that. We are aware of that."

As was the case at this stage of the season last year - before the Hammers hit a purple patch of form that saw them climb to finish ninth - positive performances have not been reflected in results. But after successfully steering his side up the table once before, Zola knows where his squad need to focus their attention in order to secure a repeat performance this time around.

"We have been unlucky in some occasions and in others we didn't defend well and some other days we didn't finish well. It is one of those moments like last year where we were doing everything well and the results were not coming along as well. I believe it is the same situation here.

"I know the players are training very well, have confidence and it is only a matter of time before things change around. Sometimes in football you do everything correctly and the result doesn't come and then, all of a sudden, when you are not playing as well the results will come. It is a very close balance and I am expecting that moment to happen soon."

West Ham fans have had to become accustomed to seeing plenty of speculation of late, but once again the manager has reiterated that unfounded news does not bother him or his players.

"I never wanted to speak about it last year and I don't want to speak about it now. My concern is on the pitch and I just want to make sure everything is working on the pitch. The rest I know. There is a lot of speculation out there and a lot of the messages that are coming out are not true and I so don't pay attention to that too much.

"I have been a player and when you go out there and play football you are totally taken by that. I know that the players from this club care about this club and know that they are doing something that they like and are committed and they are doing something that they like."

Hull City manager Phil Brown has also been the subject of plenty of press speculation this season and Zola admitted he was "pleased" to see him still in charge although he added with a smile: "Hopefully I will make him a little bit disappointed after the match but that is part of the game! The thing that really matters is that he's there and he keeps doing his job."