Manager on Monday

Avram Grant will have fewer numbers to work with this coming week because of international commitments but has pledged to keep spirits high nevertheless.

While the majority of the first-team squad are away, there will still be plenty of senior figures around Chadwell Heath to ensure productive work is done. Three of the defence from Saturday's draw at Tottenham Hotspur - namely Wayne Bridge, Manu da Costa and Matthew Upson - will get to hone their rearguard work while Mark Noble and Thomas Hitzlsperger have also remained behind.


Crucially, the enforced break will mean Frederic Piquionne can rest his foot injury in the hope of being available for the visit of Manchester United on Saturday week and Jack Collison can get another fortnight of solid training under his belt. It is not thought any of the above will feature in Wednesday's reserve match at Blackpool, but others will get a chance to stake their claim.

Among them could be Julien Faubert, Radoslav Kovac, Freddie Sears and Zavon Hines while Junior Stanislas is hoping to be back in training soon after his hernia problem. Whoever he is working with, the manager is expecting the positives of a four-match unbeaten run in the Barclays Premier League and the team's presence outside the bottom three to come to the fore within his depleted squad.

On the back of away draws at West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham, either side of successive home wins against Liverpool and Stoke City, there is a real sense of the Hammers being on a high.

"We are in very good spirits," said Grant. "Saturday's draw was a good result against a very good team. Maybe it was the best defensive performance for an away game. The team defended like a team and we have only conceded one goal in the last three games and that was against Liverpool.

"It is good because we have been scoring a lot of goals but we know that if we want to take points we need to keep clean sheets."

A strong defence proved crucial at White Hart Lane, with Robert Green and Wayne Bridge particularly impressive.

"Robert is a good goalkeeper and he did well from Gareth Bale's free-kick at the end. It was a great save at the right moment. It is very important to score a lot of goals lately but it was important also to keep the balance and to keep clean sheets.

"Wayne did very well defensively. On his side, it was not so easy because we left him alone [against Aaron Lennon and then Gareth Bale]. I played Demba Ba as more of a striker than on the left wing and Wayne did very well with little protection. We know we can trust him.

"Wayne was my player at Chelsea so I know his quality. He is a very good player but he hadn't played for a long time [when he first joined] which made him very hungry to play but in need of more games. With every game he is better and better. He is a very good player and he is a good lad."

So to Manchester United and the title favourites will be eager to avenge their 4-0 defeat in the Carling Cup when they return to the Boleyn Ground for a sold-out fixture on 2 April. The Red Devils will also be hindered by having their manager in the stands with Sir Alex Ferguson's touchline ban.

"I don't think [Sir Alex] missing will make a difference," added Grant. "They are a very good team, they are aiming to be the champions and they know how to play football. But we showed against Tottenham that we know how to play and we will give them a good game."

The prospect of having a fully-fit squad to choose from is a headache that Grant is willing to have, with Piquionne and Robbie Keane both set to compete with Demba Ba, Carlton Cole and Victor Obinna for places. "I hope I will have these problems all my life. The problems I had in the first half of the season were not good and we missed so many players.

"Competition is a good thing. Since we have had competition, you have seen all the players play better. Since Robbie came and Demba came, Freddie and Coley have been playing better. This is why you need competition.

"Our recent form has given a lot of confidence to the players. It is not about one game. Week after week since January we have picked up points and played better and better so we have good momentum. We need to continue with this.

"It is frustrating we are not playing next weekend but we will make the best of the break. For us it is not good to lose the players this week as we are have momentum but this is not something we can control. We will work hard and be ready to welcome all our players back for the next important game."