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Bellamy itching to face the Hammers

RSC in training

RSC in training

Derby hero Craig Bellamy is desperate to face his old club West Ham tonight even though it will mean Mark Hughes suspending one of his unwritten rules to unleash the in-form striker.

Blues' boss, anxious not to put too heavy a demand on the 30-year-old Wales skipper, would prefer to give him a rest after his two-goal derby display and a full midweek shift against Fulham.

Roque Santa Cruz is now fit for his first appearance since a summer move from Blackburn Rovers, but the Paraguay striker, who had knee surgery towards the end of last season, will have to settle for a place on the bench tonight.

Hughes said: "It's been a big week for Craig and I don't like playing him three times in a week, but he's really looking forward to it.
"He loves to play against his former clubs - he had a great time at West Ham and has a lot of respect for Gianfranco Zola and everybody at the club."

Asked if far-from-shy Bellers had been offering any inside info or advice on the club he left in January, Hughes grinned: "He gives us advice all the time!"

But Hughes knows West Ham manager Zola's modus operandi well enough after their time together at Chelsea, and added: "West Ham is a difficult game and the extra days rest will have been crucial to us.

"We are up against a good West Ham side who like to get the ball down and play good football. That's how we like to play as well, and hopefully we'll have a few more options available.

"I know Gianfranco very well, having played alongside him for three years. I count him as a friend. He's done a fantastic job there in difficult circumstances.

"His mindset is that he wants his team to play attacking football. I'm of the same mind. But that's a challenge for them given how strong we are at our stadium. It's a test for them."

Captain Kolo Toure, less familiar with Zola than his boss, is more wary. Asked if he expected an open game, he shrugged and said: "I don't think so - there is an Italian manager there."

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