Matty Doesn't Miss Christmas

CHRISTMAS is rarely a time for revelry if you are a professional footballer. The Yuletide season is more about avoiding temptation than succumbing to it, as West Ham's players prepare for a marathon stretch of four games in eight days.

Winger Matty Etherington will be skipping the Christmas pudding again this year as he enters one of the busiest periods in the football calendar. And the 23-year-old Hammer of the Year admits that promotion would be his perfect Christmas gift this season.

"Promotion's definitely top of my list," he said. "We feel that we've got the ability to achieve it this season, but we need to start showing a lot more consistency than we have of late and mount a strong challenge on the Championship leaders.

"Everybody knows that Christmas is a really important time of the season. There are loads of points up for grabs, the games come thick and fast and you have to be well prepared.

"We'll hopefully benefit from the fact that we've got a strong squad and there are senior players coming back into the side after injury. At this time of year, team's rely on having a good squad of players to see them through, and I think ours is one of the strongest in the League."

The Hammers squad has been strengthened by the recent addition of wide midfield player Gavin Willaims, who will come into direct competition with Matty for a first-team place. But the former Spurs and Peterborough star isn't fazed by the added challenge.

"Having good players vying for your spot in the team keeps you on your toes," he said. "I want to play every game for the Club, as does Gavin and the other midfielders in the squad. We are all compeiting for places and at a big club like West Ham United that is how it should be.

"After a spell of indifferent results during November our form was getting there, but we let ourselves down with a very poor performance against Preston. That has been typical of our season so far, getting get close to the leaders, playing good football and then we trip up. But the Christmas period is a great opportunity to pick up points and really stamp your mark on the League. We don't want to waste it and we need to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible."

Looking ahead towards the Christmas weekend, Matty admits that there won't be much time for turkey as the Boxing Day clash with Nottingham Forest looms.

"I'll spend Christmas Day quietly with the family," he explained, "and then it will be back down to business on Boxing Day. Of course, there are lots of temptations around that players have to resist. But once you've been doing it for a number of years it becomes routine and you don't feel like you're missing out.

"There isn't much time to stop and enjoy Christmas, but that is what we are paid for and it's up to us to go out and put on a good show for the fans.

"Boxing Day is just another matchday for us and we can't afford to let our focus wander too much into the Christmas spirit. It isn't a holiday for us and it will be a big game against Forest.

"Hopefully we'll get the three points against Forest and really give the fans something to celebrate over Christmas. Then we've got the trip to Rotherham two days later and the game at Ipswich on New Years Day. It's a hectic time of year, but hopefully we can make the most of it."