Dean Ashton also featured in that reserve game at the start of the week and Curbishley revealed it was the player's choice. Having played just ten minutes as a replacement in the weekend win at Fulham, he said: "He scored and he wanted to play in the game. It wasn't what people were reading into it." Ashton played alongside Freddie Sears for the second half of the reserve encounter. When asked if the youngster, who struck twice and made the other goal for Ashton, would figure soon, Curbishley added: "He is a centre-forward who we have got hopes for. It was a good display. As I said previously if we get to it and they go in, I have got no doubts about playing them. [James] Tomkins, [Jack] Collison and Sears have all been around the first-team squad for the last four or five weeks. [They are] part and parcel of the future of the club. Sears is different to what we have got available at the moment. He is Bellamy-like. He is quick, wants to get in behind people and goes about his business very quietly. He is a good finisher. He has burst on in the last two months really and I think the natural progression is to get some sort of football and we will see if that is in the next 12 games. I am not afraid to put the young boys in. If an opportunity arises I will do it."
Meanwhile, Scott Parker has come through eight days of full training after his recovery from a knee injury suffered when Cristiano Ronaldo accidentally fell on him during the Manchester United victory on 29 December. When asked if he would figure against Tottenham on Sunday week, the manager said: "It might be a bit tight for him". In addition, Craig Bellamy is recovering from his abdominal strengthening operation which, if all goes to plan, could see him "out for another three or four weeks".
In other news, John Paintsil has revealed his happiness in returning to the fold at West Ham United after his experience with semi-finalists Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations. The popular defender, known to his team-mates as Johnny P, played every minute of his country's five games at the finals and but his thoughts were never too far away from the Boleyn Ground. "I am so happy to be back with my group and the team at West Ham. When I was playing at the Cup of Nations, people were shouting the name of West Ham at me and I was so happy and proud to hear my club's name mentioned in Ghana." Since returning Paintsil found himself back on the bench for the first time in the 1-0 win at Fulham last Saturday and was overawed to get such a rapturous response from the travelling fans when he ran out to warm up including a special song in his honour. "It was so amazing to see the fans last Saturday and I am very happy to come back to the club. The song was amazing, it just showed me that I am back with the team and I must be ready for any chance that comes my way."
Hayden Mullins have come in for some much warranted praise. Alan Curbishley took time out yesterday to pay tribute to the contribution of the midfielder this season - describing the 28-year-old as his "unsung hero". Curbishley recognised that Mullins may have been concerned about his place last summer with the arrival of two big signings. "We bought Scott Parker and Kieron Dyer in and he must have looked at that and thought there is a bit of competition here but he has stayed strong," the manager said. "He has stayed fit and he has played every game. He has deserved to be playing in every game." Mullins himself has previously spoken about the impact of increased competition for places on his game. "You can deal with it in two ways. You can let your head drop, which will affect your game or you can let it bring out the best in you as a player with the competition it creates. I want to be at this club with these kinds of players around me, which is going to be pushing for bigger things. I just put my head down and got on with it. Then a couple of injuries occurred, I got my chance and made sure to make the most of it." Mullins has certainly made the most of his time at the Boleyn Ground - playing in 25 of the club's 26 league games this season as well as four in the cups. The definition of a reliable performer, he made 30 league appearances in 2003/04, 40 in 2004/05, 35 in 2005/06 and 30 in 2006/07.
Finally, Nobby Solano has revealed he is looking forward to the chance of repeating his match-winning heroics of last weekend when Chelsea come calling this Saturday afternoon. The Peruvian international came off the bench to score the only goal of the 1-0 victory at Fulham and would gladly take a similar result - especially as Chelsea were winners by the narrowest of margins when the teams last met at Stamford Bridge on 1 December. "When we played away against them, we played well," he declared. "It is always difficult against Chelsea. We can't sit back for 90 minutes and wait for them as they have quality players who can score any time. So we have nothing to lose. We aren't having a bad season. Compared to last season, we are in a comfortable position. But we want to win the game. We want to try and enjoy the game. It is eleven against eleven. They are a good team. But we are at home."
The midfielder is also aware of the desire from fans to see more goals from the team but acknowledges that the front men need improved service. "Our midfield has to give the chances to the strikers to create something," he admits. "It is a bonus for a midfielders to score goals, but the priority is for the strikers to score, as they are in better positions. We need to improve and create more for the strikers. We can't carry on only creating two or three chances in a game, we need to do much better. Sometimes it is very difficult to score in this league, as teams fight and fight for the result. But we need to improve and create more chances - we need to play better football if we want to score more goals."
The 33-year-old Solano is a popular figure at Chadwell Heath, most notably for the youthful enthusiasm he brings to every session. Revealing that he used to work as a bus conductor as a teenager growing up in Peru - "I needed the money to go training, or if I wanted to buy new boots" - he says he is nothing but grateful for the opportunity he has today. "We are privileged to play in this profession compared with different people. That is why I have no complaints. Some people go to work at 7.30, but we start at 9.30/10 - we are here two hours. It is a wonderful profession." Of his time in England and with West Ham United, he said he always tries to tell his colleagues of how lucky they are to be using the best facilities - unlike the experiences of his youth in South America. "When you move here, everything is perfect. That is why I appreciate it. I am very glad that every day I am still playing."