Super six games provide vital key

IT S ALL very well battling to excellent draws against Aston Villa on Sunday, and against league leaders Chelsea back in December, but it is the results against the teams around them that will really provide the key to West Ham s season, writes DAVE EVANS

IT'S ALL very well battling to excellent draws against Aston Villa on Sunday, and against league leaders Chelsea back in December, but it is the results against the teams around them that will really provide the key to West Ham's season, writes DAVE EVANS.

And that means the next six Premier League clashes will determine the future of Gianfranco Zola and his squad as they tackle Portsmouth, Blackburn, Wolves, Burnley, Birmingham and Hull in consecutive matches, four of them at Upton Park.

Sunday's draw at Villa Park hauled the Hammers out of the dreaded drop zone, but Zola knows that his team are far from out of the woods.

However, he is confident that the team are definitely on the ascendancy after recent performances.

"I'm delighted and lucky to have a bunch of players with such commitment, passion and desire to please me and the club," said the Italian boss after the game at Villa Park.

"I'm telling you those are the best ingredients for success."

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So far this season, West Ham's results against their fellow bottom-seven teams have been fairly impressive.

They have managed 10 points from a possible 18, including victories over next opponents Pompey, Wolves on the opening day of the season and Burnley, who they hammered 5-3 at Upton Park in November.

Zola knows that the next month provides the perfect opportunity to take the pressure off himself and his injury-hit squad, although even that seems to be on the mend.

"Now we have a difficult match at Portsmouth and then we have a good run of home games," explained the manager.

"It is a big opportunity and the result against Villa will enable us to prepare ourselves for those matches in the best possible way.

"We have important players coming back and Saturday's performance gives us the perfect platform for those games."

Skipper Matty Upson has seen the progress the team has made in recent games and feels that things are on the up.

"We have been working hard on being difficult to beat," he said. "In the last month we have had an improvement. We have kicked on and hopefully we can maintain that and climb the table," added the skipper, who was delighted that the team have moved into 16th place in the Premier League.

"It is a good psychological boost to be out of the bottom three," he insisted. "We have had some tough games against top teams and given a good account of ourselves every week.

"The attitude is great and we will move on."

Upson's return from injury has been one of the keys to the upsurge in form, and Zola is hoping that some more vital parts of his squad return to action in the next couple of weeks.

"Carlton Cole isn't far away, it looks like he'll be joining us for training this week, which is very good news for us," said the manager.

"Kieron Dyer is a couple of weeks away, Danny Gabbidon might be this week, Guill-ermo Franco will be at least two or three weeks and Herita Ilunga will be one or two weeks longer. I'm looking forward to having those players back.

"We are good enough to start climbing the table and to stay up, but we need to play with the same attitude as we did today."

That starts at Fratton Park next Tuesday night and Zola will hope that by the time they make their trips to Manch-ester United at the end of February and Chel-sea and Arsenal in consecutive weeks in March, their Premier League future will be all but assured.

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