Manager on Monday

A new year and renewed optimism for West Ham United manager Avram Grant this week after the 2-0 weekend win against Wolverhampton Wanderers made it a fourth match unbeaten.

The manager put faith in his young guns over the festive period and was rewarded with fine displays from 21-year-old trio James Tomkins, Junior Stanislas and Freddie Sears - while old hand Mark Noble - at 23 - has returned to put the icing on the cake. The Academy quartet was part of a nine-strong British contingent fielded against Wolves - further reason for homegrown cheer.

Sears has been the most striking contributor, coming back from a loan spell at Scunthorpe to start the last three matches out wide and then score his first club goal since March 2008 with the decisive second on Saturday. The manager had no doubt he could play on the right wing, having tried him there memorably against VfL Borussia Monchengladbach in a July friendly.


"I don't think many teams would put three young players in the team when they were struggling. We are trying to give our Academy players a chance but they have to deserve it of course," Grant said. "Freddie Sears was with us in the training camp at the beginning of the season. He did well in the games he was with us and then we felt he needed some experience.

"He went to Scunthorpe and we followed him. Even if he didn't score I think he did a good job, two or three times he was man of the match. We had a problem in our team so we called him back because I thought in this difficult time we could use him."

The manager rejected concerns that Sears had drawn a blank in 72 previous outings. "When you play forward and you don't score it makes you frustrated but he has been doing the right things all the time and he has in the last three games.

"He is playing intelligently and doing a good job for the other players in the team. He is still young. He can get better. He scored a fantastic goal and also had shot in the first half that forced the defender to make an unbelievable block. He is good. He just needs to continue like this."

Such selection choices can prove pivotal to a campaign but the manager did not want to dwell on where praise should lie. "In this case it was my idea but it doesn't matter who makes the ideas. I must say I have a good staff and we are sitting together every week. Everybody says their view and then I have to take the decision.

"He didn't play before on the right side but I remember that I played him one half in the training camp on that side and he did a good job. I saw that he could do it."

Grant will continue to give youngsters a chance but is also set to bolster his squad with a couple of new faces with the matches coming thick and fast - Newcastle United away is next up on Wednesday night. He said there was no shortage of players keen to don the claret and blue.

"They are looking at the kind of football we play. Sometimes we haven't succeeded or taken the points we should but players like to play like this. They wanted to come here, even if we were on the bottom. Now it will be easier and we want players that can improve us."

As well as transfers in, the manager was delighted to welcome back Noble, a man who has proved almost as much of a talisman this season as Robert Green, Matthew Upson or Scott Parker.

"It is very good to have Mark back. We are very short in our squad and with a game every three or four days we need to change the team all the time. He is a quality player. Noble has played good football this season, energetic with good passing. I am very pleased that he has come back.

"We are trying to do some business because our squad is short. We have a lot of games and we need a squad of good players. I trust the players I have. If everyone is fit, we know we have a good squad but we always need to improve."

Grant, as ever though, was keen to put the team over individual praise and will go into a busy month - the massive Carling Cup semi-final against Birmingham City looms large on Tuesday week - looking for more of the same. "The boys deserve this feeling. They have kept their spirit, they never gave up. They always tried to do the right thing. It is not easy to be at the bottom.

"They kept their spirit and they have been professional. You can really measure people when there are difficult times, and the boys have been great. People were worried about the situation but I always said you need to believe. We have a long way to go but we are going in the right direction. It will be a battle until the end of the season."

The manager will put his faith once more in preparation and passion, but admitted that a certain item of clothing kept safely by Bob Oteng, the first-team kit-man, was also playing a part - having been worn in the positive recent results against Manchester United, Fulham and Wolves.

"I wore the scarf against Man United when it was unbelievably cold. Then Bob said to me that he thinks it brings luck. Every time I wear the scarf we seem to win. Don't think it was because we scored goals, it is because of the scarf! It might get uncomfortable in August but it doesn't matter, I will still wear the scarf."