Chris' Home Improvement

DEFENDER Chris Powell insists West Ham United must rise to the challenge of Friday night's crucial clash with Sunderland and prove that they can handle the big match atmosphere at Upton Park.

Alan Pardew's side are eight games unbeaten, but out of the four they have played at home during that run they have won only one. But that statistic will not be worrying the 34-year-old defender, who insists Hammers can improve in front of their own fans.

"The Upton Park crowd can create a terrific atmosphere at times and I'm sure they will on Friday night," he said. "We're expecting close to a full stadium and with everything that's riding on the game we're hoping that the fans will give us their full backing.

"When the West Ham fans are behind us Upton Park can be a tough place for visiting teams to play. It can work both ways at times, because the expectation can be tough. But that's something the players must deal with and there can be no fear when we walk up that tunnel on Friday.

"Our home record hasn't been as good as we'd have liked this season, certainly not over the second half anyway, but if we can get a win against Sunderland none of that will matter.

"It's a crucial game as far as the League is concerned and one that we've got to be looking to win."

The former Charlton Athletic and England player insists Hammers can take confidence from the fact that they are sitting inside the top six after earning a point in the 2-2 draw at Brighton last weekend.

"That's a boost," he admitted, "because it means our fate is back in our hands again. For the last few weeks we've been playig catch up, chasing the teams above us and hoping that results go our way.

"But we're going into these last two games knowing that we don't have to do that now. We're in charge of our own destiny and basically if we can win our last two games then that should see us into the Play-offs.

"Of course, it's not going to be easy. But we need to take each game and deal with it on its merits. So much can change that it's pointless looking ahead right now.

"All we need to be focusing on is winning our game against Sunderland. They'll come to Upton Park looking to get a result and try and secure the title. They'll be on a high after getting promotion as well, so those are things we're going to have to deal with.

"It's important that we stay strong, keep positive and go out there believing that we can take all three points. If we do get the win it would be a huge step towards making sure we are in the Play-offs."