Zola confident upcoming fixtures are the key for West Ham

West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola believes the Hammers upcoming fixtures give them an excellent chance to pull clear of the relegation zone

West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola believes the Hammers' upcoming fixtures give them an excellent chance to pull clear of the relegation zone.

The East End club are 16th in the table and only out of the bottom three due to goal difference.

But with trips to Portsmouth and Burnley, plus home games against Blackburn, Birmingham and Hull scheduled in the next month and a half, Zola is keen that his side take advantage and start climbing up the league.

"It is a big opportunity," the Italian admitted.

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"We have another tough match against Portsmouth and then a run of games as home.

"I'm looking forward to it as we have big games coming up so it is a very important time for us. What makes me positive is the team is alive and is determined to make a good impact."

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"It will let us push clear as we have important players coming back."

It was feared that the Hammers could be without Scott Parker for a while after he limped off with hamstring trouble in the 0-0 draw with Aston Villa on Sunday.

However, Zola announced he would be training this week, before explaining that his star striker could make a return to the line-up soon.

"Carlton Cole shouldn't be far as he might be joining us in training," the boss said.

"Kieron Dyer is a couple of weeks away, Danny Gabbidon might be this week, Guillermo Franco will be at least a couple of weeks more and Herita Ilunga should be two weeks away, maybe one week."

The former Chelsea marksman has been badly missed at Upton Park since he injured his knee in the 5-3 win over Burnley in late November.

But his replacement on Sunday, 18-year-old Frank Nouble put in an encouraging performance on what was his first Premier League start.

The powerful forward held the ball up well and could have scored after five minutes, leaving his manager keen to praise him.

"He had a very good game," Zola said.

"He delayed too much, he should have taken his chance earlier.

"Despite that he posed a threat to them all of the time.

"You can't afford to play a team like Villa and not cause them problems or they will come on top of you."

At times Villa did cause the Hammers problems and goalkeeper Rob Green was called upon a couple of times to keep his side in the game and he did not disappoint.

He pulled off an excellent save in the first half to deny Gabriel Agbonlahor, before preventing the same man netting with just seconds remaining in the game.

"His performance was really good and he was back to his normal standard," Zola said.

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