Core Stability

If one thing has cost the Hammers more than most this season, it's been injuries to key personnel at vital times.

Only Tomas Repka has come close to being an ever-present for the Hammers this season, and his chances of earning such a distinction evaporated with a one-match suspension for the win over Cardiff.

But, as the crucial end of season run-in approaches, Alan Pardew believes his team now boasts a strong spine of players that will lead West Ham United in a final promotion push.

"When you look down the core of our team, it's looking a lot stronger," said Pards. "From Stephen in goal, who is looking solid, through to Marlon Harewood and Teddy Sheringham, who are forming a good understanding up front, there is a reliable core to the team.

"Malky Mackay and Anton Ferdinand are starting to really get it together at the back and their forming a strong little unit of their own in central defence.

"In midfield, we've got Carl Fletcher, who's probably been our best player this season and with the likes of Steve Lomas and Matty Etherington coming back there is a good blend of quality and experience in the side.

"Consistency of selection has definitely been a problem for us this season, but having a strong core to the team can only benefit us during what will be a crucial point in the season."

Since taking over as manager at Upton Park in October 2003, Alan Pardew has enjoyed only fleeting opportunities to pick talismanic Northern Ireland midfielder Steve Lomas on a regular basis.

A succession of minor injuries have limited Steve's appearances, but after making a return to action this week, Pards praised the resilience of the 31-year-old midfielder.

"Steve is a major asset to the team," exclaimed Alan. "He's been dogged by injuries during my time at the Club, but he always fights his way back to fitness and when he's out on the pitch there's no more important player.

"His leadership and fighting qualities are a huge asset for the team. Steve doesn't suffer fools and he certainly voices his opinion, which is good because it keeps people on their toes and helps to focus the young squad that we have at West Ham United."

However, Pards will still look to strengthen the squad after the Leeds game, as is his end of season custom.

"This is a good time to strengthen the squad for the final part of the season," he said. "I like to bring a player in around this time to freshen up the squad and we'll be looking at a couple of options next week to take us through to the end of the season."