Sam Allardyce reiterated the importance of preserving a healthy distance between his side and the Barclays Premier League's bottom three, as West Ham United prepare to welcome Queens Park Rangers to the Boleyn Ground.

The Hammers go into the weekend seven points above the drop zone and with key personnel gradually returning to fitness, Big Sam is confident of steering well clear of trouble.

He insists, however, that a rejuvenated QPR will provide a stern test on Saturday, having won two and drawn two of their last four outings in all competitions.

Sam, firstly what's the team news ahead of Saturday?

SA: "Andy Carroll gets slightly nearer everyday but he's not available as of yet. I think the best news for us is Joey O'Brien is fit from a defensive point of view, and that's a more critical area with our defensive problems. We'd love Andy back as quickly as possible, but we've got Carlton Cole and Marouane Chamakh to look at the striking role, so we're not too bad. Mark Noble has passed a fitness test as well and Joe Cole comes back into the squad, so we've got some of those important players back in the squad for Saturday's big encounter."

How important is Saturday's game?

SA: "These are the bigger games in terms of trying to get your best performance out of your players, to try and get the win that you need. When you play the big boys it's always great if you put a good performance in and if you get a result, it's a magnificent achievement, as it was when we beat Chelsea 3-1. But it's not as important as beating the teams that are below you. At this stage of the season, as the games tick by, you don't want them that bit closer, because it brings the pressure on you.

"At the moment it's going to be a hugely difficult game for us, because QPR are, in results terms, in much better form than we are. They've won two and drawn two of the last four."

How big of a concern is it that you could still be dragged into the relegation battle?

SA: "We still have a reasonable distance between us and the bottom three and I think that we must always remember that our level of performances this year have suggested, that if we continue like that, we're going to be good enough to stay clear of them. And the reason that the performances have been good and the results haven't is obviously due to a number on injuries and changes we've had to make over the Christmas period going into January. We want to put that right as quickly as we can and it would be great to start getting another winning streak going on Saturday."

How does the weather affect your preparations at this time of year?

SA: "With the amount of games we're playing there's not a lot of training we can actually do with the players. We played on Wednesday night, we got back at two in the morning. We came in yesterday for a recovery session, but we can't load the players too much on the training ground today. We just have to be relying more on analysis in the analysis room than we would be on the training ground at the moment. From a physical point of view, you need to save every ounce of strength you've got for this period. And that, in terms of the weather is a distraction, but in terms of how often you're training at this stage of the season it's not too often, and if we do train, it's not too long on the training ground, so it's not too much of a problem."

Do we need a winter break?

SA: "We've always needed one, but I don't think we're going to get one. I think that there's a lot of research out there to suggest a winter break benefits football clubs in Europe from suffering less injuries. That shows it's of great benefit. But obviously with the fixture congestion, the Premier League and all the other leagues find it very difficult to fit in. So, I think as managers we'd all like one. It would a hell of a lot of difference if you could leave your players doing nothing for a week, in terms of rest and recuperation physically and mentally. That would get them re-energised and ready to move forward again.

"I always squeeze one in anyway, I do it as a course of my managerial experience. After we went away to Dubai last year we only lost one game, went all the way through to the Play-Offs, and won the last six games on the trot. The physical output of the players increased when they came back, as opposed to what they were achieving before they went away. It just shows a few days can make a difference."