Tony Looks Ahead

Tony Gale sympathises with young striker Jermain Defoe - being asked to carry so much responsibility in the forward line at the moment - and casts an envious eye at what Liverpool have got to offer his opposite number Michel Owen.

"It is something he is not used to, trying to hold the ball up and bring other people into play, which is not what he is strongest at," says Tony, echoing the thoughts of Glenn Roeder.

"He is a Michael Owen type, really good at being in the box and finishing off chances or half chances.

"At the moment he is having to play a game that is a little bit alien to him - but in the long run, it will help his own game.

"Owen has a partner, whether it be Baros, Heskey, Diouf...they have quite a few strikers there.

"Paolo pops up on the left wing, the right wing, he is coming deep, and that is not a criticism of him, it is the way he plays.

"With Don Hutchison missing we haven't really got players who are going to get in the box and help Jermain or win the second ball if we don't win the first ball.

"There are not a lot of options open, except Trevor Sinclair, and Fredi not playing puts a bit of a spoke in it.

"I am sure that if Paolo was playing it would have been a system that serves us quite well up there with one striker.

"If you think about it, at Sunderland and Fulham, we played with largely one up front because Paolo flits in and around the striker - and it a good system away from home.

"At our place, though, I think you need someone up there with Jermain, that extra striker. We haven't really been taking the game to teams at home and we have been playing like an away side at home.

"I think Paolo has been in good form up to the Everton game but you can't blame him for what was a poor display from everyone."

Tony feels Liverpool's first home defeat of the season, against Valencia in the Champions' League on Wednesday, will not have adversely affected them, and he says: "They will put that out of their minds because they know they have got a fantastic chance of winning the title, and if they are to do so, they can win it at this stage of the season.

"I think they need to get maybe an 11 point gap above Arsenal or Manchester United to take into that last 12 game run.

"Then, it is experience and bottle that helps you get through - and if they haven't got a lead going into the run-in I don't think they will win the title.

"They have to keep winning now."

A win for the Hammers would certainly upset the odds, not to mention extending a more than useful away run which has surprised most.

"No one was really expecting what happened when we won three away," says Tony, "and it was four if you include Chesterfield!

"I believe the last time we won five on the trot was in the 1985-86 season!"

The key to a first victory there in nearly 40 years?

"If we are to win the game we don't want to be conceding an early goal. If you do that, Liverpool get you on the counter and it could lead to two, three, or four goals," he says.

"We have been keeping it nice and tight and the defence has been doing quite well, with just one conceded in the last three games.

"They haven't done much wrong, although their distribution could have been a bit better - but in criticising their distribution they are getting the ball and saying 'who is there to hit?'

"There is only Jermain. At least when Fredi is there and you can't play into midfield, it gives you a target.

"If we get anything out of the game it is a bonus. I think this is the most difficult one of the three including Leeds and Manchester United.

"But the way it has been going this season, winning the hard ones and losing the easy ones..."