Powell's Final First

MONDAY'S Play-off Final represents one of the most pivotal matches of Chris Powell's 666-game league and cup career.

Indeed, with his present contract due to expire at the end of the present campaign, Hammers' showdown with Preston North End could even prove to be the former England defender's last in a claret and blue jersey.

That said, the reward for a West Ham United victory will, however, be Premiership riches.

And then the odds on the 35-year-old winning a new deal would surely shorten.

"My personal situation hasn't been discussed as yet," reveals the likeable left-back who has made 41 appearances for the club since moving through the Blackwall Tunnel from Charlton Athletic, on a free transfer, last September.

"I'm just hoping that we can get into the Premier League because that'll be great for both the players and the supporters while, from a financial perspective, it will be fantastic for the club overall.

"I originally signed until the end of the season but, right from the very start, I've always wanted to carry on here at West Ham regardless of what happens.

"Throughout everything, it's been in my mind that I want to stay for at least another year but I'm just going to go to Cardiff and forget all about my personal situation," says the five-times capped England international with typical selflessness.

"All I want to do is help us all to do ourselves justice this time around.

"These have been my first Play-offs and I can see how the tension can really grip teams. We've had 12 days to prepare, though, and I really hope that West Ham United can do better than they did last year.

"From my viewpoint, I just want to enjoy the day because it's an immense part of anyone's career to play on a big stage and I've never made it to places like Wembley or the Millennium Stadium before.

"Until now, the farthest I've ever got in a cup competition is the quarter-final stages. It's going to be the biggest day of my club career and, so long as I'm fit and selected, it'll be a great day for me and everyone else connected with West Ham United, too.

"A lot of people thought that we were out of the play-offs after we drew 2-2 with Ipswich Town in the first leg, but we showed our quality and discipline in the return at Portman Road," smiles Lambeth-born Powell, safe in the knowledge that Hammers have finally found a rich vein of consistency following a winter of indifference.

"If you don't do well when you wear your team's shirt then you'll come in for criticism but that's part and parcel of the game.

"As a team, you have to expect it, but we've now come through all that.

"The boss has had his critics but fair play to Alan Pardew, he's always stuck by his players and we've stood by him in return.

"Now we all want to go one better than we did last year. We've being doing well away from home and we've only lost one game in 12 matches now, so that's great form to be taking to Cardiff.

"And we've got a great belief in ourselves, too.

"I came to this club with the intention of helping West Ham United to get promotion and while we haven't done that via the automatic places, we still know this is another route," concludes Chris hoping that maybe, just maybe, victory will provide him with that precious passport to the Premiership.

"This match means a lot to me and I hope my enthusiasm still rubs off onto some of the younger lads.

"Then again, I'm only a 35-year-old so that makes me a junior compared to Teddy Sheringham, and if he can carry on, then so can I!

"At the end of it all, I love football and I just want to continue playing for West Ham United for as long as I possibly can.

"But the situation is out of my hands and I can only go to Cardiff and do what I've got to do on the day.

"After that it's up to the boss and the Chairman to decide my future."