Gianfranco Zola has hailed Guille Franco and Danny Gabbidon for their impressive performances as he looks ahead to a big week that will culminate in Saturday's visit of Burnley to the Boleyn Ground.
Mexico forward Franco showed his international class last Saturday in the 3-3 Barclays Premier League draw at Hull City by scoring one goal and setting up another, while Wales defender Gabbidon produced a resolute display on his return to the starting XI following a two-month absence. The point proved enough to lift the team out of the relegation zone and three more this weekend could put the club in striking distance of mid-table, such is the closeness of the league table.
Zola was understandably pleased, but not surprised, by the experienced pair, who have amassed 56 senior caps between them. "Guillermo Franco was outstanding. Both Danny Gabbidon and him came in and did very well," said the Hammers manager.
Zola admitted he had been surprised when Spanish side Villarreal CF allowed Franco to run down his contract and leave on a free transfer in the summer. Despite turning 33 earlier this month, the Argentina-born striker has kept himself in superb physical condition, and the manager believes he has plenty left to offer.
New to the English game and with the 2010 FIFA World Cup also on the horizon, Franco has great incentive to show what he can do over the coming six months. He arrived in east London on the back of a strong run of goals for his country and played a pivotal role in their qualification for South Africa in the summer.
"Franco has been very good for me. I was certainly surprised that Villarreal didn't give him a contract but maybe there was something else there. He's proving to be a very good player for us. He's been a very good gain for West Ham United.
"He is an excellent guy, he works very hard and, above all, he's a very intelligent player. He does that right things for the team and I'm really impressed with him."
While Franco found the scoresheet at the KC Stadium, England striker Carlton Cole was unable to add to his tally of six league goals this season. Zola explained the 26-year-old was still working his way back to full match-fitness after suffering a hamstring injury in the 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on 4 November.
"Carlton has been out for a while with an injury. It's not easy to come back and pick up straight away. He couldn't train properly because of his injury but I'm not worried about him because he's going to be there when we need him."
While Franco, Cole and their team-mates are not struggling to score goals, conceding them at the other end remains a concern for Zola and his players.
A 2-0 lead disappeared against the Tigers, the fifth time this season West Ham have failed to win a match after taking the lead - Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham, Sunderland and the Carling Cup fourth-round tie at Bolton Wanderers being the previous four.
A Cole own-goal, Kamil Zayatte volley and Jimmy Bullard penalty saw Hull storm back before Manuel da Costa levelled matters midway through the second half.
"Sometimes, we are handling the game a little bit bad, when we are in control of it. Sunderland was different because the guy [Andy Reid] put their free-kick in the top-corner, but it was different because a deflection sent it into the top-corner.
"We know that we have to handle these things better and that's one of the things we're going to be talking about during the week."