Rufus Yet To Play?

Rufus Brevett may yet have a part to play this season, says Alan Pardew.

Rufus has battled back from a foot injury sustained in August and Alan reckons that even if he is not fully fit, his experience could be vital.

"Rufus played in our reserves, came through, and we are really pleased about that - it was a major bonus," says Alan.

"We will hopefully be fast-tracking him for the play-offs; I do see a possibility for him and I haven't given up hope.

"I know Rufus himself has suggested that he doesn't feel it is going to be enough time for him but I don't share that and he is going to find that out in the next week or so when he starts doing some serious running and work.

"I think any senior player would look at it and say 'I need this amount of games' but I don't believe in that, personally.

"He is a player who is Premier League standard in my opinion and he proved that at the back end of last year.

"He was a real big success here and Rufus at 90% would be sufficient for us to be of use."

Rufus' comeback for the second string coincided with a defeat at Derby that denies West Ham the opportunity of reaching second, and Alan adds:

"It is a shame because we went 13 games with a lot of victories and really had played well.

"We just weren't quite right on the night and it was disappointing for all the players involved.

"We have been very strong in that department and that reflects well in the squad we have."

Alan has a full complement of senior players to choose from and he adds:

"Connors and Repka are available and everyone is fit; with them available unfortunately someone is going to have to sit it out - but that is a nice decision to have because my bench is going to be very strong.

"I have been thinking about it and I have been making sure we approach this game in the right manner.

"If I lose a key player I am going to have a key player to come back on the pitch.

"In the two times I haven't made it in the play-offs key injuries have cost me; one to a centre half in the final and losing Nicky Forster in the first leg at Wolves; I am better placed this time to compensate for losing a key player.

"I am probably putting my neck on the block but I do feel the squad is probably healthier than it has ever been since I have been here.

"We have got a lot of players available but we have put a lot of work into having players available in terms of a programme to avoid players getting injured, and that is bearing fruit.

"You can always lose players in games with clashes and we have been fortunate with those."

Alan is pleased there is still something riding on the match, and adds:

"It is a tough game but it is what I would like because if you had a dead game then it makes it difficult for the first play-off game.

"I had that when we played Stoke last year - they needed a win to get promoted and there wasn't really much in it for us.

"We lost a tiny amount of confidence in that game and hopefully we can get a positive performance at Wigan - and if we perform well at Wigan then we are all set.

"Then we will know what a play-off game is like because that is what it is going to feel like - I will be able to give them a taste of the preparation that is needed and the psychology that goes with it.

"It is an intense time for everybody, you have to keep a cool head.

"I want to finish the season as high as possible - and that means third; that is where I want to finish.

"In all walks of life you have to aim as high as you can and we will play for the win at Wigan.

"I have had a similar situation in the past when I had to go to Brentford and get a draw - which we got, but we didn't play for.

"We have had decent success away, partly due to the support, although we haven't won as many games as we would have liked.

"There is going to be a wall of noise at Wigan from our fans - which will be great for us."

Alan believes the players, old and new, have got to know each other well now and adds:

"There is an acceptance now from the senior players to the younger players who are new and the younger players are feeling more comfortable with the shirt.

"There is a nice bond in the dressing room and that is reflected in results, I think.

"I honestly felt all along that the senior players are the ones that would get us promoted.

"The younger players were brought in because I thought they were good value, and I felt there was longevity to them - but ultimately they gave the energy for the senior players to work off.

"That has now been triggered and the return of Steve Lomas has helped and he has brought some leadership to add to that of Christian - he has been a major bonus for us.

"I held back for a long time with Hutch because before I never felt that his levels were right to play, but I do feel he has played enough reserve games and has earnt his right to play.

"He played very well last week but Wigan is a different proposition to Watford at home and if he does start we will see how he copes with that because the energy level in that game will be higher, I suspect.

"They got promoted last year and had a similar season to what I had at Reading - I have come up against Wigan a lot as a manager, I know Paul Jewell well, and I know they will be disappointed if they don't make the playoffs.

"But they have had a fantastic year and hats off to them for their season."