Hayden Looks Forward

HAYDEN Mullins has forced his way back into Alan Pardew's first-team with some success over the past weeks.

Since arriving at Upton Park in October 2003 the 26-year-old has found himself filling a variety of positions, while struggling to establish himself as a first-team regular.

But after an unbroken run of games that stretches back to Hammers 2-1 win at Wigan the former Crystal Palace trainee is finally making his presence felt in his preferred position of centre midfield.

Now as he looks forward to another Play-off semi final against Ipswich, Hayden insists memories of last year, good and bad, will help the Hammers in their quest for glory.

"We're more experienced than last year," he insisted. "I think having gone to the Final and then lost will have a galvanising effect on the team this year.

"It's going to be a tough semi-final, just like it was last season, but we've got the mental strength to come through it and we'll definitely draw on what happened last year to some extent.

"But it's also important that we take this game on its merits. We won't be taking anything for granted and we need to focus purely on this semi-final and not start thinking about what happened last season.

"That's all in the past now and we've got a great opportunity to win promotion that we have to take."

Unsurprising for a player who has featured in positions as various as left-back and centre midfield that he believes a strong team ethic will be vital to come through a gruelling two-leg semi-final.

"In games as important as this you've got to work for each other and support the other players in the team," he said.

"Every player has his own individual responsibilities, but at the end of the day we are all contributing to the result of the team and that's how we'll approach the game.

"Our mentality going into the semi-final will be just as important as our physical preparation, because the bigger the occasion the more that you have to be positive and believe in what your doing.

"There's definitely plenty of belief and confidence in our squad. We know that if we play well, work hard for each other and stay focused then we can come out on top over the two legs.

"But we're also aware that it's going to be a massively tough game against a team who play excellent football and were unlucky not to go up automatically."

As a participant in all three Play-off matches last season, Hayden is also conscious of the part the West Ham fans will play particularly in Saturday's first leg at Upton Park.

"It's been a tough season but the fans have been fantastic to us home and away," exclaimed Hayden. "They've got a big part to play on Saturday. Ipswich will remember how tough it was at Upton Park last season, and all the players hoping to walk out into a similar atmosphere on Saturday."