Grant Geared Up

It may be only four weeks since West Ham United's memorable play-off final triumph at the Millennium Stadium, but preparations for the new Premiership campaign are already about to begin - and first team coach Peter Grant can't wait to get started.

Along with manager Alan Pardew and the rest of the backroom staff, Peter will return to the club's Chadwell Heath training ground on Monday - two days before the players report back - and admits that a shortened break hasn't bothered him in the slightest.

"We've only had four weeks off again but it's been a completely different summer to the one we had last year," he says. "After losing in that play-off final, we all felt sick to the pit of our stomachs because of the performance we had given and, although everyone was desperate to get back to make amends, it wasn't an enjoyable summer break.

"This year, though, it's been a different story. We thoroughly deserved our victory against Preston and everyone was able to go away on holiday with a smile on their face, knowing that we had achieved what we were aiming for.

"Returning for pre-season training this time has brought anticipation of a different kind, because we are all so excited about the prospect of playing in the Premiership and can't wait to get stuck into the preparations for the new season."

Reflecting on the amazing sequence of events at the end of last season, when Hammers were written off after losing their final home game of the campaign against Sunderland and then again after letting a two-goal lead slip in the play-off semi-final first leg at home to Ipswich Town, Peter admits he looked on with immense pride as the players proved their doubters wrong in glorious fashion at the end of May.

"The thing that impressed me the most was the character within the group," he says. "We lost that last home game against Sunderland and everyone said we were down and out. The following day, Alan went to watch Reading play Wolves and I went to watch Ipswich play Crewe. At half-time, Reading were 1-0 up and Ipswich were coasting in their match, and their fans around me were all saying how pleased they were that they weren't going to have to face West Ham in the play-offs.

"When Wolves came back to beat Reading, I knew it was game on. Psychologically, we had the edge over Ipswich and the players responded to that. Apart from that brief spell in the first leg when we let the lead slip, they were absolutely magnificent, and the attitude and belief they showed to win at Portman Road was first class.

"That carried into the final and it was a strong performance to overcome a decent Preston side, who had beaten us twice in the league and finished above us. The determination and desire to make up for the previous year's defeat was excellent and made everyone at the club very proud.

"Saying that, I still believe there is more to come from this squad of players. They know that there is much improvement to be made and that we are looking for additions to provide more competition for places. Hopefully that will bring out the best in everyone, because there is no hiding place in the Premiership and they all know that their careers will have to step up a level now."

Peter is also looking forward to the personal challenge of testing his coaching skills at the highest level and believes that everyone within the club should be relishing life in the Premiership rather than fearing it.

"I really can't wait to get going," he admits. "I'm excited about seeing how our players will handle the Premiership and I'm hoping it brings out the best in them and they grow into it. Myself and Alan are also looking forward to working against the very best, pitting our wits against the top coaches and adapting to life in a new division.

"As a coach, the more time you have to work on things the better and I think you get that in the Premiership. By the end of September last season, we had played something like 14 matches. By the end of September this year, we'll have only played seven. That means more time on the training pitch and more time for bodies to recover from matches.

"Of course, that doesn't mean the job will be easier, because we are all aware that expectation and demands will now be greater. As I said, there is no hiding place in the Premiership, mistakes are nearly always punished and you have to produce the goods, it's as simple as that.

"It's a massive challenge for us but one we are all looking forward to. People may have already made us favourites to go down but I don't see why we should be frightened. I've always been brought up to believe that you aim as high as you possibly can and see how far it takes you.

"We will give everybody respect and, if anybody doesn't respect us, then hopefully we can cause a few upsets. At the end of the day, it's 11 v 11 and we have earned the right to play in the Premiership. There will be ups and downs, and highs and lows, but the main thing is that we're in there, and we're ready to give it a right go."