Matty's New Start

HAVING had a taste of life in the Premier League already, Matty Etherington is hungry to show that he can be a hit at the highest level and believes it's vital Hammers get off to a good start against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.

Matty, who recently signed a new four-year contract at Upton Park, believes Mark Hughes' Rovers side will provide a strong test for the Hammers in their first competitive game since winning the Play-off Final at the Millennium Stadium back in May.

But the winger, who will turn 24 the day after the Rovers game, is determined to make it a double celebration in the Etherington household this weekend.

He said: "Blackburn are a very physical side and Mark Hughes has them working hard. They had a good end to their season and no doubt want to try and carry that on, but we are determined to get off to a good start ourselves at Upton Park.

"We're looking to start off well and are confident that we can go out there, get stuck in and get a result."

"It's good to be at home in our first game, in front of our own fans, who will no doubt create a brilliant atmosphere, as they always do at Upton Park.

"Pre-season went well, but it's nice that those games are out of the way now and we're all looking forward to the big kick-off on Saturday."

After a Championship season which saw Alan Pardew's squad come up with big performances at just the right time, Matty believes that this Hammers squad has proven that it can raise it's game for the big occasions.

And they don't come much bigger than the Premiership.

He said: "Blackburn will be a tough game, but all the games are going to be tough this season and we are ready for that. It's a big step up, but we know we can do it and we believe in our ability to bridge the gap successfully.

"Although it's at a higher level, last season proved we can raise our games for the big occasions, like we did in the Play-off games. We've proved that we can pull out the stops when it matters and now we we've got to show that on the big stage this season."

With three seasons of Premiership football to his name, the former Peterborough United trainee knows a thing or to about competing in the top-flight.

And it's the element of surprise that he thinks will be a major advantage to Alan Pardew's squad this season.

The former Hammer of the Year said: "The fact that we are a bit of an unknown quantity is definitely something we can exploit.

"We're going to be up against some of the best players in the world and why we will be looking to compete with them, many of them won't have played against us before, and that might work to our advantage.

"It isn't something we want to rely heavily on, because we feel that to a man, we can compete with most of the teams in the Premier League. But that underdog factor is something that has worked for promoted teams in the past and could work for us this season.

"For me personally, last season, teams and players knew more about my game, so I had less space on the ball and had a few more bruises, because I was getting kicked a bit more!

"The season before that, I found I had more space because the players and teams didn't know about me, so it will be like going back to that again, which is not a bad thing at all.

"We're really looking forward to the start now and competing in the Premiership and we're aiming to get off to the best start possible.

"There's nothing better than seeing a few points on the board early on and we know it's important to hit the ground running and give it our all right from the first whistle against Blackburn on Saturday to the final whistle against Spurs next May."