Pards' Pride

ALAN Pardew was glowing with pride after seeing Bobby Zamora's 78th minute goal earn West Ham United a precious 1-0 victory over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.

In a tight game, Hammers traded attacking opportunities with their hosts, but had to be patient in their quest for a winner. Zamora came off the substitutes bench to tap home from Marlon Harewood's cross, securing West Ham's fourth win in five games and moving the Hammers to within a point of sixth place Reading.

"The players were magnificent," exclaimed Pards. "It was a really tough game and we dominated the play for long periods without ever really looking like we were going to get the goal.

"There were some very good situations that we wasted, but the team were right on it and we came up with a massive result.

"We knew it was vital that we won the game to move us closer to the top six. I think that showed in the determination of the players, and late in the game we were always going to take some chances.

"But I was just very proud of the way the players applied themselves in a very difficult situation."

Pards reserved special praise for young centre-backs Anton Ferdinand and Elliott Ward, who showed maturity well beyond their years in dealing with a powerful Stoke attack, and are fast becoming a formidable partnership.

"I thought the two centre-backs, Anton and Elliott, were the best players on the pitch," he enthused. "Stoke put us under a lot of pressure, pumping balls into our box and pressuring us with two big lads up front.

"But they handled it superbly. In this division you are always going to get that kind of directness from teams, and the way the defence dealt with that looked much better than at any time since I've been at the Club."

Match winner Zamora had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes before side-footing home from close range, and Pards also paid tribute to the striker, who has come in for critcism this season, but hit back in the best possible way against a team that tried to prise him away from his hometown club earlier in the season.

"Bobby is starting to show some form for us at a really important time," said Pards. "He's a quality player, a West Ham boy and wants nothing more than to do well for this Club.

"He went through a sticky spell earlier in the season and it was difficult for him. But over the last few games he's come on and really had an impact on the match, and there was no bigger impact he could have made at Stoke.

"It was great to hear our fans chanting his name as well. Bobby is a confidence player and the supporters have been tough on him this season. But to see them singing his name at Stoke will have meant the world to him."

Hammers have now gone seven games unbeaten - four wins and three draws - and will try and bottle that winning spirit between now and the end of the season. Alan Pardew knows his West Ham side face three season defining games, beginning at Brighton on Saturday. But he believes his squad are up to the challenge.

"The spirit is excellent," he insisted, "and if we can keep this good mood going throughout the Club anything can happen.

"Our results over the last few games have really brought those teams in the Play-off places back to us, and I'm sure made them think and take notice.

"We've got another very tough game at Brighton on Saturday, but if we can win there it will be a great position for us to attack the last two games."