Pards Makes His Mark

IT was a night for landmarks at Gillingham's frozen Priestfield Stadium on Tuesday, as West Ham United recorded their third straight League victory and their third Championship clean-sheet in a row.

The importance of the 1-0 triumph, courtesy of Marlon Harewood's 16th goal of the season, was not lost on manager Alan Pardew.

"This was a big night for us," he insisted, "and it was a really important result. We had a couple of ghosts to put to bed, namely three consecutive victories, and we're pleased to have achieved that, because an unbeaten run at this stage of the season can be extremely important.

"This conditions were really tough for football and the staff at Gillingham did a magnificent job just to get the game on.

"We were struggling with injuries. Matty Etherington and Gavin Williams weren't quite fit and Teddy Sheringham was feeling stiff after Saturday, so we had to manage the team and sort out a system that would work with the players that we had available.

"Matty was only ever going to play a half, but his involvement was important for us and he proved it with one bit of quality that created the goal for Marlon.

"Gillingham made it very tough for us, though. They've got a very good manager in Stan Ternent and an honest group of players, and if they play with as much commitment as they did against us then they'll have a good chance of staying up.

"They earned their efforts on goal, winning the ball well and putting us under pressure.

"We had to be really strong, and I was pleased that our back four kept another clean sheet. Continuity at the back has been a problem for us all season, but it's settled down now, and again Anton Ferdinand took charge with a commanding performance.

"Stephen Bywater has also showed his ability in the last few games, commanding the back four and making the world class saves that we all know he is capable of.

"Having played so few games the commitment in Steve Lomas' performance was a tribute to his professionalism, but it was a strong all round performance and we just deserved to win it."

The freezing conditions certainly didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the Hammers travelling faithful, who roared Alan Pardew's men on despite being totally exposed to the elements.

"The fans were terrific," exclaimed Pards. "They seemed to be enjoying the snow and they were in really good voice. We know that we've let them down at times this season, but they made a lot of noise to support us during the game and clapped us off at the end.

"I'm sure they'll stay with us for a very tough trip to Leeds and hopefully back us right to the end of the season, because they really do make the difference."

Speaking of the tricky trip to Elland Road on Saturday, Alan knows that Hammers will have to be at their best to keep the three-game winning streak going.

"We've got a really tough game at the weekend," admitted Alan. "Elland Road is never an easy place to go and we'll need to massage a few bodies to try and get them up to Leeds.

"But we've got important players like Matty Etherginton, Gavin Williams and Steve Lomas coming back to fitness and with Teddy Sheringham staying available and maybe one or two other people coming back we've got every chance of achieving another very good result.

"Hopefully, we'll get similar support to the Gillingham game and another win for the fans."