Pards Insists Stars Will Stay

WITH the January transfer window ready to open for business, West Ham's players are yet again placed amid the annual torrent of speculation.

Marlon Harewood, Matty Etherington and Nigel Reo-Coker are among the players who have been linked with moves away from Upton Park. But Alan Pardew insists that he is hopeful of holding on to all his key players for a strong promotion charge during the second half of the season.

"We are right in the promotion race," insisted Pards, "but there are a lot of other teams there as well and we need our best players at this stage of the season.
"Like everyone, I've heard the speculation that has linked some of our players with moves away from the Club in January.

"But everyone at the Club is working towards the same goal, which is promotion, I'm confident that we'll be able to hold onto our players as we go into a crucial stage of the season.

"As a squad we've got enough ability to kick on over the next few months and we can take positives from the character we have shown recently.

"Coming back against Watford last month and then again against Rotherham this week proved that the squad are prepared to fight for the Club under very difficult circumstances.

"Having witnessed those comebacks I don't think anyone could accuse the team of lacking character, and that is very encouraging.

"Admittedly, we haven't played at our best of late and we do need to address that going into the New Year. But if we can stitch some consistency into our performances I'm confident we can mount a really strong promotion challenge."

One problem for the Hammers this season has been the regularity with which Pards has been forced to switch his back four. Injuries and suspensions have meant an almost match by match reshuffling of his defensive pack, something the Hammers boss is hoping to avoid now that the Chadwell Heath treatment room is beginning to clear.

"We need to toughen up defensively," confessed Pards, "and stop giving away the type of goals we did against Rotherham. Keeping a settled back four will certainly help that process, and I think the constant switching of our defenders has really been the team's Achillies heel this season.

"We've had our fair share of injuries, but thankfully those are starting to clear now, and hopefully we'll be able to form a more solid base to the team over the next few weeks.

"Suspensions - self-inflicted absences - have hurt us as well and those are something I want to cut out, because we need all our senior players available now.

"At the moment we are hovering, staying in touch without really pushing the teams at the top. We've got a great chance to show what we can do by taking points off Ipswich at Portman Road on Saturday and putting some pressure back on the teams above us.

"There's still a lot of belief in the squad and nobody is in any doubt that we are capable of beating team's at the top. But a win at Portman Road would give the squad a huge lift going into the New Year."

The half way point in the season has now come and gone, and as the need for results becomes even greater, Pards is well aware that the pressure on him and his players is going to mount. However, the Hammers boss believes he is strong enough to cope with the challenges of a promotion dogfight in the months ahead.

"Everyone connected with the Club wants West Ham United to get back into the Premiership," he said, "and that's what we are striving hard to achieve.

"That also brings with it a lot of pressure. There is a huge amount of expectation around the Club and rightly so. That is something that I have to deal with and I feel that I deal with it well.

"Right now, we are still in there battling with the teams around us. We just need to stay calm and focused and concentrate on taking three points from each game that comes along."