West Ham boss Sam Allardyce insists striker Andy Carroll has got a job on his hands getting back into the starting line-up after the recent hot form shown by Carlton Cole.
The Liverpool loanee is expected to be sidelined with a knee injury until mid-January, which has paved the way for stand-in Cole to enjoy a rare run in the team.
Cole scored a powerful header past Petr Cech on his return to the side and set up another in the Hammers' 3-1 win against Chelsea, before turning in another eye-catching display in their defeat to Liverpool last weekend.
And Allardyce has backed the 29-year-old to take his opportunity, with a busy Christmas period coming up for the club.
He said: "Carlton has contributed well. He has not played quite as much as he'd wanted to but, when he has got the chance, he's done the business.
"We now need him to continue that. With Andy out for a number of weeks, Carlton can establish himself in the team and keep his place. It'll be Andy's problem to get back in.
"In fact if Carlton's playing that well when Andy gets back, it's nearly impossible for me to leave him out.
Allardyce admits the Hammers are ahead of where he thought they would be at this point of the season with the club having taken 22 points from their opening 16 games and just four points off the top four.
Allardyce added: "We're slightly ahead of where we thought we might be in terms of points but that's good news for us.
"This period is a concern, though, as we are talking about having 14 first-team players fit. That's all, right now."
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