Shaka's Debut Dream

GOALKEEPER Shaka Hislop returned to action at Upton Park in the 1-1 friendly draw against Osasuna on Saturday and got more than he bargained for.

The 6ft 6ins former Trinidad and Tobago international came off the bench to replace Roy Carroll with 15 minutes of the game remaining, only to be thrown into a penalty shoot-out competition, which saw Shaka make two outstanding saves.

Sadly, his efforts were in vain, as the Hammers went down 8-7 on penalties. But the former Hammer of the Year winner was delighted to be back playing in the Boleyn Ground again.

"It was a good feeling," admitted Shaka. "I've been away for a few years, but it was nice to get a good reception from the crowd when I came on.

"The penalty shoot-out was interesting and I managed to save two of theirs. But the most important thing was that the squad got a good work-out and everyone came through the game with no injuries.

"This week is definiely going to be important in terms of preparation. The squad are looking good in training though. There are only a few players left from my first spell with the Club, but this group has got some very talented players as well as some experienced professionals and I think there is a good mix to the squad.

"The start to the season is going to be important. Any promoted club always wants to get off to a good start and get some points on the board early on. But Blackburn will be a tough game. They've got a lot of top-flight experience and they've brought in some top players over the summer.

"Having our first game at home will certainly be a help to the team, because the Upton Park crowd are tremendous and it's sure to be a huge atmosphere inside the Stadium.

"It's great for the fans that the Club are back in the Premier League. The manager and players did a fantastic job to secure promotion last season and now it's up to the current squad to make sure that we stay there this season."

Having trained with opposite number Roy Carroll since arriving back at the Club, Shaka has been impressed with the former of the Northern Ireland international. But the 35-year-old is determined to push Roy all the way for the number one jersey.

"When I came to the Club I knew my job would be to push Roy as hard as I can," explained Shaka. "Like any other player, I want to play in the first-team and it would be fantastic to play for West Ham United again.

"My aim is to make sure I'm at my best in training and if I'm not in the team then to push as hard as I can to get there. That way, even if I don't play a game this season, I'll know that I've done all I can to get a place in the first-team.

"Roy's a top-quality goalkeeper with lots of Premiership experience and I'm sure he'll do a good job for the Club. For me, it's great to be back at the Club and now I just want to focus on doing my best and pushing for that spot in the team."