Marlon's Forest Fire

STRIKER Marlon Harewood has more cause than most to look forward to the clash with Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day.

Marlon swapped Forest for West Ham United in November 2003, after graduating from the youth ranks at the City Ground. The 25-year-old hitman admits that he can't wait to go up against the club that groomed his talents, before handing him his League debut in 1998. But, with 61 Hammers appearances and 24 goals under his belt, there will be no room for any festive sentiment on Sunday.

"It's always a special moment for me to play against Forest," confessed Marlon. "I spent a long time at the Club and have some very good memories of my time there. It'll be nice to see some of the boys again, and of course Adam Nowland who is now playing for them.

"But it's a massive game for both clubs and they'll certainly be no favours going about. After a disappointing result against Preston we need to get straight back into our stride with a win, especially in front of the Upton Park crowd.

"Forest are a big club, despite their League position, and I'm sure both sets of fans are looking forward to it."

The 2-1 reverse at Preston halted a run of encouraging Hammers form over the last few weeks, and Marlon admits that Alan Pardew's men need to get back into the winning habit as quickly as possible.

"We've past the half way mark in the season now," he explained, "and with a bit of ground to make up on the leaders every point is vital. We're going into a period packed with games and they'll be plenty of points at stake. We've been working hard this week to put right the mistakes of Preston and hopefully that will show in our performance on Boxing Day.

"We are expecting a good crowd against Forest, but we also know that after last weekend's result there could be some tension amongst the fans. The manager has told us to expect that and we need to go out, play the kind of football we know we are capable of producing, and then hopefully give the West Ham crowd something to celebrate."

On Christmas Day West Ham United will stand sixth in the table, nine points off the automatic promotion places. Marlon accepts that the Hammers need a strong run of form to close the gap on Ipswich and Wigan, but with senior players returning to fitness he is convinced Alan Pardew's team have the ability to do it.

"The are a lot of good teams up there fighting it out for promotion," he admitted, "and we need to string together a few wins on the trot to get close to the leaders.

"At times this season we've shown our ability as a team, but there have been occasions when we've let ourselves down. We need to produce our best form on a more consistent basis, and going into the business end of the season, now would be a great time to start putting together a run of results.

"We've definitely missed some of the experienced boys. Christian Dailly has been out for most of the season, but is starting to train again now. His presence gives everyone in the squad a lift.

"Teddy Sheringham and Malky Mackay have also been missing, but are both back now and I'm sure will have an impact on the team going into this important stretch of games.

"Playing with Teddy is great. He links up play brilliantly and always plays the right passes at the right times. He creates a lot of goalscoring opportunities and as a striker that's what you feed off."

Despite knowing that the Hammers need to add significantly to their wins column over the coming months, Marlon stopped short of offering a target of victories for the remainder of the season, preferring to stay focused on the job in hand - taking three points against his former employers on Sunday.

"I don't think we should be looking too far into the future," he commented. "We're still at the right end of the table, chasing for promotion.

"Now we just need to win as many games as we can to get us back in touch with the leaders, and hopefully we'll start with three points against Forest."