Zola backs midfield pair

Gianfranco Zola has challenged Mark Noble and Radoslav Kovac to stand-in for the absent Scott Parker against Sunderland on Saturday.

Hammer of the Year Parker begins a two-match Barclays Premier League suspension against the Black Cats, leaving what some will perceive to be a hole in the centre of the West Ham United midfield.

However, manager Zola believes former England Under-21 captain Noble and Czech star Kovac can compensate for their absent team-mate.

"I think what Scott does on the pitch, only Scott can do. I'm looking for Mark Noble or Radoslav Kovac to provide the same amount of work. We have a few solutions but I don't want to tell you them all right now! I'm sure we won't have the same personnel but we'll try and do something different to provide what Scott does for us.

"Obviously when you are at home, you have to play in a different way. The pressure that comes from producing results is another thing. I'm sure that it will be different, because everybody realises that it is important and we have to play the game in a certain way. No matter if the goal comes in the first minute or the 90th minute, it has to come. Everybody has to do their own job to achieve that. It has to be a common effort."

While Parker will be in the stands rather than on the pitch, his squad-mates will be going all-out to secure three vital points against Steve Bruce's side.

A win would life the Hammers above Wigan Athletic and, should Burnley defeat Hull City at the KC Stadium, could take them four points above the relegation zone.

With those points in their minds, Zola said his players will need no extra motivation to succeed.

"I'm going to use anything that comes to my mind [to fire them up], but the players know the importance and if you point out the right things and use the right words, the rest will take care of itself. We know the importance of the game and just need to be reminded and it should be OK."

One player who will be integral to the hosts' chances on Saturday will be England striker Carlton Cole, who is back to his best after shaking off the effects of the knee injury that kept him out of action for two months over the Christmas and New Year period.

"I think in the last two games we played he was better. Especially against Everton, he really worked hard and was dangerous. He produced a penalty and had a great chance in the second half when he made a great run. He was alive and he was a threat all the time. That is Carlton Cole, and I want to see him reach the same level against Sunderland. He can make a big difference."

Two other potentially important figures are recent arrivals Benni McCarthy and Ilan, whose diving header secured a draw at Everton last Sunday.

"I feel that Benni McCarthy was unlucky when he came and picked up an injury. He lost 40 days. Since then, he couldn't come back to his own standards.

"I'm looking forward [to seeing McCarthy at his best]. That also comes from him. He has to want to become the Benni McCarthy that everybody knows. We will be stimulating him and giving him the opportunities to be like that.

"Ilan is very quiet, but he has already given us something. I'm sure he can give us even more because he is a player who has got potential. He is the one who, more than the others, has to adapt to this football. He has to realise that it is a very physical game and he has to adapt to that, but he has got qualities, as you have seen already. I'm sure he can give us something important."