West Ham United captain Lucas Neill believes the club need to take four points from their remaining three Premier League fixtures to qualify for next season's UEFA Europa League.
Neill led the Hammers to a brave, resilient 1-0 win at Stoke City on Saturday, a victory that saw Gianfranco Zola's team leapfrog Fulham - who lost 3-1 at Chelsea - back into seventh place and pole position for a place in Europe next season.
The skipper, who inspired his colleagues both before and during the game with his positive, never-say-die spirit and courageous defensive play, now believes a win and a draw from the final three fixtures at home to Liverpool on Saturday, away at Everton and then finally Middlesbrough at the Boleyn Ground could well be enough to see him, Zola and everyone connected with the club realise their continental dream.
"This win puts us in a fantastic position now, especially with Fulham losing," said the Australia captain, who is on the verge of qualification for the 2010 World Cup with the Socceroos. "It just gives us a one-point cushion, but that one-point cushion is massive. We've got three very tough games left, but then so does everyone else. At this stage, points are more important than playing games that you think you might win.
"Realistically, we honestly think we now need four points for Europe. With three games left, we need a win and a draw or two wins. Two wins virtually guarantees it. This Saturday, we know it's going to be a tough game but we've given ourselves the cushion that if we don't take points, we've got two games to put it right."
Neill and Zola spent the past week drumming the significance of Saturday's match at the Britannia Stadium into the squad. The pair emphasised the importance of a victory at a ground where only three previous visiting teams had picked up maximum points this season.
Thanks to a courageous defensive display from each and every player in claret and blue, a commitment to the manager's passing game and a sublime 33rd minute free-kick from Diego Tristan, that positive mindset was translated into a vital success.
"I enjoyed the clean sheet and the win. We asked ourselves a question during the week - do we really want to be in Europe next year, and if we do, we need to win. We needed to take maximum points and we needed to turn up, be strong in character and be resilient."
Neill, along with goalkeeper Robert Green, central defenders Matthew Upson and James Tomkins and a host of other heroes, threw themselves in front of everything Stoke could muster, including a succession of long-throws into the visitors' penalty area from Potters' midfielder Rory Delap.
"We needed to take everything that was thrown at us, and it was literally thrown at us, and be brave enough to pass the ball around, and we did that. We showed great character, particularly in the first half, when we passed the ball and knocked it around and basically killed the game off. It was a fantastic goal from Diego as well.
"In the second half we showed a different sort of character by being resilient and very strong both mentally and physically. We just showed our desire. We wanted to get back up to seventh place, get back on the winning trail and to prove to everyone that we want to be in Europe."
"The manager and I are big believers in the thought that if you feel positive, you play better. If you feel confident then it means you train better and it means you play better. I'm not saying that we don't normally do that, but on Saturday and last week we emphasised it and took the concentration of the team we were playing against and put the focus on what we needed to do."
While West Ham will go into next weekend's game against Liverpool full of confidence, Manchester City, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, who all sit a point behind the Hammers, face tough assignments against Manchester United, Aston Villa and Everton respectively.