Noble: Hammers will be a force if club keeps top stars
Mark Noble insists West Ham will be ""a force to be reckoned with"" next season if the club can keep hold of their top stars
By JONATHAN CLEGG
Mark Noble insists West Ham will be "a force to be reckoned with" next season if the club can keep hold of their top stars.
The Hammers have made steady progress under manager Gianfranco Zola this year and narrowly missed out on European qualification in the final weeks of the campaign.
Midfielder Noble, 22, believes West Ham can challenge Everton and Aston Villa for a top-six Premier League finish next season.
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But the homegrown Hammer has warned that club must not allow their top players to move on this summer, with defenders Matthew Upson and Lucas Neill facing uncertain futures at Upton Park.
England ace Upson, 30, has been linked with a �6m move to Arsenal, while Hammers skipper Neill's current deal expires next month.
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Noble said: "The season we've had, some of the football we've played has been fantastic. We get on so well as a team - obviously on the field, but off the field as well. 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.
"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."
West Ham secured a second successive top-half Premier League position this season and improved on last year's 10th-place finish by ending the campaign in ninth.
But playmaker Noble, who will form a key part of Stuart Pearce's side for next month's European Under-21 championships, reckons the progress made at Upton Park this season is greater than the final league standings suggest.
"Although we've only finished ninth, some of the results we've had have been fantastic and if we can just add little things to that, we can go much further," Noble said.
"With some of the young players we've got coming through and the experience we've got - it's a great blend and we can push on.