The heart of the Hammers

IF SCOTT PARKER is the engine room of this West Ham team then fellow midfielder Mark Noble is the heart, writes DAVE EVANS. The 22-year-old Canning Town-born Hammers supporter has not had the best of season s to date, and West Ham have suffered accordingl

IF SCOTT PARKER is the engine room of this West Ham team then fellow midfielder Mark Noble is the heart, writes DAVE EVANS.

The 22-year-old Canning Town-born Hammers supporter has not had the best of season's to date, and West Ham have suffered accordingly, but on Sunday against leaders Chelsea he looked close to his ebullient best.

Carlos Tevez may have got most of the headlines for West Ham's 'Great Escape' from relegation back in 2007, but just as important was the contribution of Noble. Then just 19, he was drafted into the side following the injury to Nigel Quashie, and never looked back.

Incredibly, just two and a half years later he is West Ham's longest serving player, having chalked up his 100th league game for the club when he was sent off at Birmingham City last week.

And on Sunday there were traces of the Noble that excited the fans when he first broke into the team. There was the boundless enthusiasm and there was the terrier-like tackling that has upset many an opponent in the past.

Noble and Parker were at Chelsea from the first whistle to the last and it proved an effective tactic.

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"Me and 'Scotty' are English players and we know what we need to beat teams like Chelsea," said the former England under-21 international, who revealed that some emotional words from manager Gianfranco Zola inspired the team.

"We have a fantastic manager here, who believes in every one of us and he tells us that every day," said Noble. "He spoke to us on Saturday and he said some words, you could tell he was talking from his heart. It wasn't just to make us feel good or play better.

"It's nice to see that because sometimes people can be a bit fake just to get you going, and you could tell that he was saying how he felt and it was nice to see. We showed that for him tonight.

"He's such a good man and you'd put your body on the line for him every game. It's nice to feel that way about your manager because I'm sure a lot of players in the Premier League don't feel that way."

Many would have been happy having gleaned a point against the league leaders, but Noble felt that the team deserved more for their efforts, especially after a controversial penalty was awarded against them.

"We feel hard done by to be honest," he said. "I felt Matty Upson touched the ball. He's quite an honest person and I think he got a touch on the ball, you could tell by the way the ball went.

"I'm a little bit disappointed. I don't know what everybody thinks, but I am. With Pompey winning we needed some sort of result and while I was out there I was convinced that we were going to get the three points and they didn't look like they were going to harm us.

"But you get these decisions sometimes and then other times they go against you."

Another talking point from the game was who would take the West Ham penalty. Alessandro Diamanti had taken and scored two already this season, but Noble was the regular penalty taker last season and despite missing two on the trot, he bounced back to score from the spot against Aston Villa in November, when the Italian was on the bench.

In the end, Noble was happy to make way for his more senior colleague.

"We were doing penalties the other day, I scored my last one so I would have liked to take it," said the midfielder.

"But he was nominated to take it and if I caused a fuss and put him off I don't think I would have forgiven myself if he had missed."

Like West Ham's, Noble's season has been a very stop-start affair, but he is hoping for a little more consistency over the next couple of months.

"I hurt my knee in training, but I carried on and on, then the next day I could hardly walk," explained Noble. "That was a bit devastating, but then I got the flu as I was coming back. I played and got red-carded so it was just a case of being in and out of the team. I've had a full week's training and it was nice to get back on the pitch playing the way I can do."

An in-form Noble is vital to West Ham's chances and he is fully aware of the huge matches they have to come in their bid for survival.

"We've got Portsmouth on Boxing Day, so that's a massive game and we have Wolves at home," he said. "We have some good teams to play at home coming up and if we play like we did today away from home, then I'm sure we will start to pick up points and climb the table gradually."

We shall see. The real test comes on Boxing Day, but if Noble is firing on all cylinders again, the Portsmouth midfield will certainly know they have been in a game.

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