Anton's In Winning Form

ANTON Ferdinand has, without doubt, been one of the Club's most improved players this season.

The England Under-21 defender has established himself as a solid, ball-playing centre-half and has brought a new level of consistency to his game in recent months, underlined with another fine display as the Hammers shut-out Cardiff at Upton Park to secure a valuable 1-0 win.

With 19 League appearances to his name already this season, it looks set to be another progressive year for the player who doesn't turn 20 until next week.

"It's good for me to be playing games," he admitted, "and I was really pleased that the team kept a clean sheet and won three very important points against Cardiff.

"It was a really hard battle, but we fought for everything, kept going right to the end and everyone was delighted with the win.

"We expected Cardiff to make it difficult for us and they did by putting on a very physical performance. But we dealt with that and the win will be a big boost for the lads going into the Cup-tie at Sheffield United next week."

Injuries and suspensions have meant an almost weekly reshuffling of Alan Pardew's defence, and Anton was pleased to earn another start for the Hammers on Sunday, helping the team keep its first Upton Park clean sheet in the League since October.

"Playing games is the best way to learn and improve as a player," he said. "It's great for my confidence to be playing every week and hopefully I can string some performances together and cement my place in the team.

"The manager has had problems with his selection in defence this season because of the amount of injuries and suspensions we've had, and it's been difficult.

"But we kept Cardiff out and the clean sheet will be a big lift for the team's confidence, going into an important run of games.

"It wasn't pretty against Cardiff and they ran us very close. But the three points is all that matters, we got them thanks to a very good goal from Fletch and now we move on to the next game."

That is at Bramall Lane in front of the Sky TV cameras on Sunday, when the Hammers take on Sheffield United in the FA Cup Fourth Round replay. Anton admits that the players are fired up for the game, especially with Highbury the Fifth Round destination.

"The lads are really looking forward to it," he confessed. "It'll be a really great Cup game and there's no better prize than facing Arsenal at Highbury in the next round.

"We'll go to Sheffield United determined to win and ready to give 110 per cent. I'm sure the fans are looking forward to it as well and it should be a really good occasion.

"Hopefully we can put on a good show, come away with a place in the Fifth Round and be able to look forward to a trip to Highbury in a couple of weeks time."

Far from being a distraction to West Ham's promotion chase Anton insists the FA Cup could prove to be just the injection of confidence the Hammers need in their Premiership quest.

"Winning breeds confidence," he stated, "and it doesn't matter what competition that win comes in.

"The victory against Cardiff was so important, because it means we can go into the Cup game knowing that we've closed the gap on the Play-off places.

"If we can go to Sheffield United and get a win there then it'll really boost the squad, not only for the next round of the Cup but also for the upcoming League games.

"There's nothing like winning to lift a team and we want to keep the habit going this weekend."