Alan's Even Keel

ALAN Pardew believes there is very little to separate Hammers and Ipswich going into Saturday's Play-off semi-final first leg and says that whoever can get hold of the game early on might well have the advantage.

Both teams are known for favouring an open and attack-minded brand of football, which promises to make for a rip-roaring two legs in this repeat of last season's Play-off semi final.

And, as Pards explains, both Hammers and the Tractor Boys will be keen to get hold of the ball early on.

"Both the teams will want to boss the game and get hold of possession early," he explained. "The two teams are really even and it promises to be an excellent semi-final.

"Ipswich are the type of side that likes to get hold of the ball and knock it around, which is also the way we like to play. We're both similar in the ways we approach games and I think it's going to be intriguing as to which team starts the best and makes an impression early on.

"Obviously in front of our own fans and with the Upton Park crowd behind us we'll be looking for a lively start and hopefully we can come out well and get hold of the ball in the opening 15 minutes.

"We'll be looking to take the game on right from the kick-off and be positive in what we do. I think that will hold the key to the tie for us."

Pards has plenty of experience in Play-off situations, both with Hammers last season and also at Reading. In fact, he has been involved in promotion battles during every full season of his managerial career and fully understands the unpredictability of the Play-offs.

"The very nature of the Play-offs means that whatever has gone before all four teams start on an even keel with just as good a chance of winning it," he observed.

"I've experienced what Ipswich must have felt last weekend when they just missed out on automatic promotion. It's a really tough blow to finish third and in many ways it feels like an injustice that you have to go into the Play-offs.

"A lot has been said about the fact that missing out will have had a negative affect on them, but that kind of disappointment can also fire a team up. Hopefully, it has dented them a bit, but that isn't something we'll be counting on.

"The Play-offs are full of tension and that's difficult for managers and players. But from third to sixth everyone is in with a chance now, and in my experience all it takes is one defining moment to make the difference between winning and going out.

"Often the Play-offs are decided on an injury or a suspension, or as in our case last season a refereeing decision that goes against you, because we felt that we should have had a definite penalty, which Graham Poll later admitted to me that he had missed.

"Those are the sorts of incidents that Play-offs hinge on. It's that close and I'm sure this season's will be just as tight. All it could take is one moment to spark things into life. We've just got to make sure that we concentrate on doing our jobs and trrusting in our preparation.

"Both legs of the semi-final are going to be closely fought and it's going to be nail-bitting stuff for our fans. But with them backing us we've got every belief that we can make it through to the Final."