Pards' Promotion Clash

HAMMERS and Sunderland were promoted together last season, with the Black Cats finishing as winners of the Coca-Cola Championship and the Hammers getting up via the Play-offs.

But the tables have turned this season, and it's Alan Pardew's side that are enjoying the dizzy heights at the top of the Premiership, while Sunderland find themselves looking up from 19th position.

There is no doubt however, that this is still a vital game for the Hammers, one which remains a real six-pointer.

"I don't have to emphasize the importance of this fixture to my players," said Pards.

"We know that these are the games that even if we don't win, we don't want the opposition taking three points. It's important when we come into that field of teams in and around us that we win.

"We'll approach it from a positive manner. We're a strong unit all the way through, we've got good back up on the bench and it will be a difficult game for Sunderland. They're on the back of a win, so it's going to make for a terrific game."

That win was the Black Cats' first of the season, and Pards will be hoping that it doesn't prove to be a catalyst for Mick McCarthy's men.

"You never know quite what the reaction will be," he said.

"Home games are a little bit different because the emphasis will be on them to come at us, and the crowd will expect them to dominate the game. They'll be in a different mode.

"At Middlesbrough they were hanging on and looking to nick something on the break.

"The reports are that they've been really competitive without getting the win until last week. They almost won the week before and they're not far away.

"Wigan have proved as well that all three of us have handled the jump.

"All the other teams in that section of the league will be worried that we're competing and could draw them in. That was our initial aim."

Certainly one of the major factors in Hammers recent successes has been the unsung hero of the midfield, Hayden Mullins.

Over the last two seasons the 26-year-old has been forced to fulfill a variety of different roles to help the Hammers cause, and he has done so without question and with wonderful professionalism.

Now it is clear to see that he his relishing the time he's spending in his favored central midfield role.

"I've had to firefight with him a bit in the past," said Pards.

"He's filled in at right-back and left-back, but we've got so much more cover now and we're stronger in all areas that he's been able to settle down in his prefered role.

"Some of the work he does goes unnoticed, although it doesn't go unnoticed in the team. He's well respected and well liked and that's very important.

"One of the things that's a real asset of Hayden's is his timing of tackles.
When you throw bodies forward like we do that player becomes so important, like Claude Makelele for Chelsea.

"Their timing and reading of the game means they can clean things up if it gets a bit messy, and he does that really well.

"He arrived at the same time I did, and I know it's been difficult for him but he's come through all the criticism and he deserves every bit of credit he's getting at the minute."

Mullins is not the only Hammer to have caught the eye of the admiring public since being thrust on to the Premiership stage.

Marlon Harewood's recent goals have obviously brought him to the fore, and Paul Konchesky has impressed enough to be touted for a return to the England squad.

"Paul deserves it, and he's been absolutely terrific," said Pards.

"Sometimes a player needs a move and a new manager to have faith in them, and say they're number one. That's what I've been saying to him.

"I think he's up there with Ashley Cole. Anyone who was at the game on Saturday would have to say that Konch just edged it."

"Cole deserves his place in the England team but in my mind Paul is the most able replacement.

"His best years are still ahead of him and I'm sure they'll be at West Ham.

"Marlon was superb at Villa, and at Bolton could have won us the game. I don't care what anyone says since he's been here he's been terrific.

"Every defence and every manager will be looking at him and thinking, we've got to look after this fella, because he causes havoc in every game.

"He's got the master next to him in Teddy, he gets good advice from our coaches and he's at a great club so he can get better. If he has a great season who knows what could happen in terms of England.

"I said to him have a go for it. He's by no means there at the moment but I want to push him.

"Knowing Marlon he'll have his sights set on it, in fact he's probably wondering why I hadn't spoken to him earlier about it!"