Nigel Battles On

Nigel Winterburn says he intends to give Vladimir Labant a run for his money - not only this season, but possibly next.

Understandably, Glenn Roeder is not making the final decisions on players out of contract just yet, and Nigel understands this.

But he hopes to prove that, by having a consistent final third of the season to go with 21 solid performances he has put in so far, he can enjoy one more season at the club.

"I'm realistic enough to know that Vladimir has been brought in to play left back eventually, but hopefully I can keep playing until the end of the season.

"That is my aim at the moment, to try and stay in the team, and after that I'd like to stay - but I don't know whether that is going to happen.

"But I'm enjoying myself here so hopefully I've got a few more games left in me yet."

Being a regular in the side is something he knows he has no divine right to, even after such a distinguished career, and he says: "I've never said that I demanded a place anyway; you have to earn the right to play. If I'm offered a new contract it is something I would consider really strongly, but that is not up to me.

"The issue at the moment is to keep us away from that bottom three and hopefully push up the league a bit more.

"I'm not really that worried to be fair. All I'm trying to do is, if I'm in the team, give it as much as I've got."

Nigel is obviously pleased the Hammers got back to winning ways after the loss at Southampton in which he was rested.

"Nothing really makes up for a defeat," he says, "but what we realised was that it was a massive game because we were only three points off the third bottom team.

"By beating Blackburn it gave us a six point cushion ready for the next league game - so for us it was a big game."

But he warns that the away results have to improve, and adds: "It is something we have to put right away from home because you can't keep relying on home form. Eventually, no matter how you play, you will slip up in some of the games.

"Now we are hoping we can put the away form right. To me it is all about players collectively performing to the best of their ability all together as a team, and if we put that right away from home we should be okay."

Nigel is looking forward immensely to the FA Cup replay with Chelsea on Wednesday, and says: "We had to forget about Chelsea on Saturday but now we can look forward to another big game and then it is Bolton away on Saturday, another important one - they are coming thick and fast."

Jermain Defoe replaces the suspended Paolo Di Canio, and Nigel says: "There has been a lot of speculation and it seems to have died down now with the transfer deadline going by for European competition.

"When Paolo is in on form he can do special things but while he is suspended we have got young Jermain who is a good goalscorer, so we have got someone good to come in, and it is going to be an interesting few weeks."

He denies the notion that the 19-year-old bears a special burden of responsibility in the next three games that Paolo is out for, and adds: "I don't know whether a lot is expected of him. Everyone knows his qualities and all he has to do is keep playing well when he gets his chance and keep putting the ball in the back of the net.

"There is no pressure on him really because everyone at the club knows he is a good player, and if he carries on working hard, listening, and learning, then he can go to the top.

"But playing football is no pressure."

As for the opposition, he says: "We know they are a fantastic team and we are not taking anything for granted because that would be disrespectful.

"But we have to have a go at them, to see if we can ruffle them up a little bit and get through to the next round."