Noble’s looking to the next step

WEST HAM midfielder Mark Noble believes that the team are closing in on Everton and Aston Villa, to the point where they could be challenging them next season, writes DAVE EVANS. The Hammers missed out on a place in Europe this season, but the 22-year-old

WEST HAM midfielder Mark Noble believes that the team are closing in on Everton and Aston Villa, to the point where they could be challenging them next season, writes DAVE EVANS.

The Hammers missed out on a place in Europe this season, but the 22-year-old is quick to put his finger on the reason why they fell at the final hurdle: "We went through a long patch with four or five of our key players out," explained the England under-21 international.

"I think Fulham, who have deservedly got it this year, have had near enough the same team every game, so their consistency has got them there in the end, but we were unlucky, we tried our best, but it just wasn't meant to be this year."

It has been a mixed season for the Canning Town-born Hammers fan. A silly sending off at Manchester City early in the campaign, and a battle against some niggly injuries meant that he was never at his best, but five goals and the leading assist man at the club this year, means he has certainly made a contribution.


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"The season we've had, some of the football we have played has been fantastic," said Noble. "I think we're just a little bit away from Aston Villa and Everton now, and when we've got all our players fit, we'll be a force to be reckoned with," said Noble.

The midfielder has been a part of the first team line-up for three seasons now and incredibly is West Ham's current longest-serving player, but he knows just how important it is to keep hold of the older, more experienced players at the club such as skipper Lucas Neill and England centre half Matty Upson.

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"On the field it is vital, but it's not just that," he explained. "Off the field as well, we get on so well as a team. We go out together, we do so much stuff together and it would be a shame to lose any of that.

"But I'm pretty sure the club will do their best to keep our best players and really crack on and get that European place next year."

Noble was part of Alan Curbishley's team last season, but he can certainly see the difference under Zola during this campaign: "It just seems that this year - although we've only finished ninth - some of the football we've played and some of the results we've had, have been fantastic for us," he said.

"If we can keep that going and just add little things to that, we can go much further."

Earlier in the season, Noble suggested that it may take a few years for Gianfranco Zola to build a successful team at Upton Park, but it seems a few months in the manager's company has changed his mind.

"The manager had a go at me at the beginning of the season when he came here, because I told him it would take a couple of years to build his team and get us playing the way he wanted," he explained.

"You see the likes of Everton and David Moyes has been there for years and they're finally doing what they should be doing now, but hopefully now if the manager stays and his backroom staff stay, we can push on a lot quicker than that."

Noble limped off after an hour of Sunday's match against Middles-brough with a sore groin, but there is no question of him putting his feet up for the summer, he has the European under-21 Championships to win for England and he is already looking forward to it.

"My groin was a little bit sore today," he confessed. "It was sore all through the game - I don't know why but I didn't feel mobile at all and I decided to call it a day after 55 minutes.

"But I'll rest this week and I'll be fit enough to go with England to the Spain training camp next Saturday and we'll just monitor it as we go along."

Noble suffered heartbreak at the championships two years ago when England lost a dramatic semi-final penalty shoot-out to Holland, but this time, as one of the mainstays of the team, he is looking to go even better.

"Our main aim is to go there and win it," he said. "We're not going there to get to a semi-final or anything, we think we've got a good enough team to actually go there and win and if we can do that, it would be fantastic and would be the icing on the cake for this season.

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