TONY Gale believes the opening games of this Premiership campaign have been a learning experience for the Hammers squad.
With a win, a draw and a defeat in their opening three games it's been a strong start for Alan Pardew's men.
Tony, a Premier League winner with Blackburn Rovers in 1995, knows all about the difficulties of competing at the top level, and believes West Ham are adapting well to life among England's elite.
"It's been a really positive start," he said. "The defeat against Bolton was nothing for the team to get down about, because they ran a very strong and experienced side close and with the chances they had Hammers should have won the game.
"At this level you have to take your chances when they come along, because the teams will punish you if you don't.
"That's a lesson sometimes harshly learned in the Premier League, but it's one the players will learn.
"It's a young team and the only way you gain experience is by playing and competing against the best teams in the League.
"But if you look at how far this squad has come in the past 12 months there is a lot to be positive about at West Ham United."
Tony feels the international break has afforded Alan Pardew's squad the ideal opportunity to regroup and take stock of their start to the 2005/06 season.
"A break is good at any time during the season," explained Tony, "and coming after three games of the season it's given the team a chance to look at what's happened these last few weeks.
"It's been a strong start, but it's probably flown by in a whirl of activity and the break is a good opportunity for the squad to take a breather and come into the Aston Villa game fresh and ready to go."
Tony believes that they will need to be at their freshest to overcome David O'Leary's Aston Villa, an established Premier League outfit who are never backward about coming forward.
"I like the sides David O'Leary puts out because whatever the game they always go out to win," said Tony.
"It's a welcome change to see a side always playing for the three points, and that's how I'm sure they'll approach this game.
"There will be spells during the game when the opposition will dominate and the home team and fans will have to be prepared for that.
"The important thing is to make sure you work hard, close down the space and not give Villa the opportunity to play.
"In the Premiership you expect teams to take charge of matches at certain times and the way you deal with that is important.
"They have some dangerous strikers and the performance of the Hammers defence is going to be crucial to coming away with a result.
"Kevin Phillips is looking sharp and I think he's going to have something of a resurgence this season.
"Hammers will go into the game confident though and they've got a good chance. It's the first night game at Upton Park back in the Premiership as well, and matches under the lights at the Boleyn Ground always give me that extra tingle.
"No doubt the atmosphere will be rocking and in front of the Sky cameras I'm sure the Hammers fans will want to put on a show!"
Galey's Good Break