Fletch's Final Dream

CARL Fletcher knows what it is like to lift a Play-off Final trophy. The midfielder tasted Millennium Stadium victory during his time at Bournemouth and is hoping for a repeat performance with West Ham United.

And after returning to the side for the triumphant night at Portman Road last week, the Welsh international is determined to retain his place for the big occasion.

"It's a fantastic experience to win through the Play-offs," he recalled. "It's something you never forget and I want that feeling again with West Ham United.

"It's such a tremendous sense of elation, and hopefully all the lads will have experienced it come next week.

"The Play-off Final is obviously surrounded by tension. The occasion is so massive and there's so much at stake that you can't help but feel the atmosphere during the build-up.

"You just have to make sure you deal with everything surrounding the game in the right way and when it comes to kick-off just go out there and play your normal game.

"As a player, you just approach the game with the belief that you are going to do the best for your team. That's all you can do and hopefully it will work out for the team on the day."

The team trying their hardest to stop Fletch and the rest of the Hammers tasting glory will be Preston North End, who did the League double over West Ham this season. The 25-year-old midfielder admits that North End will pose a tough test on the day.

"They're a tough outfit," he said. "They're always very well organised and they make it very difficult for their opposition to play.

"But they've also got some talented players who have done very well for them this season, and we'll have to be on our guard, because if you are not then they've got players who can punish you.

"Preston have got the better of us in the League this season, but hopefully this will be our chance to make up for that, and what better way to do it than in the Play-off Final.

"It'll be a hard game for certain, but it will probably be a bit different at the Millennium Stadium to our games against them in the League.

"It should be more open and there will be more room for us as well. If we can play to our full potential then hopefully it will be enough."

Fletch made an important contribution in the semi-final second leg at Portman Road, a crucial return to the side after missing out on the final nine games of the season because of the form of Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker in midfield.
But a change in system saw the former Bournemouth trainee's return and he is hoping to make it a permanent one.

"I was out of the side for a while, so it was great to come back in such a huge game," he admitted. "But more important than that was the fact that the whole team played really well against Ipswich, and we've taken great belief from that win.

"I think we showed over the semi-final what a strong side we can be and now we're looking forward to doing the same in the Final.

"Not many teams can say they've kept a clean sheet at Portman Road this season, and we've done it twice. That's a credit to the team, especially for the back five who have been fantastic over this run-in.

"There was a bit of criticism after the first leg, but we hit back in the best way possible. The team had a great blend in that game and everything just clicked into place really well.

"Now we're aiming to keep that focus and make sure we give another strong performance at the Millennium Stadium."