Galey's View

Tony Gale believes that a successful cup run this season - starting with victory at Norwich City on Saturday - can help Hammers to stay on course for a top ten Premiership finish.

The former Upton Park star reached three domestic cup semi-finals during his 10-year career at the club and says that the possibility of reaching a major final can have a galvanising affect on players, staff and fans alike.

"People say that the cup can sometimes be an unwelcome distraction but I don't personally subscribe to that view," says Tony. "Premiership survival may be the ultimate aim but I believe that a good cup run can still be a valuable boost.

"We had a few good cup runs during my time here and it always did us the world of good. You get the old-type atmospheres for cup games because of the greater ticket allocation for away fans and the further you get, the more exciting it is. It lifts the players, the supporters and everyone around the club.

"We've had a great first half of the season this year and, after a little bit of doom and gloom over Christmas and the New Year, some excitement in the cup could be what we need to get things back on track."

Saturday's tie is of course a repeat of last season's third round fixture, when Marlon Harewood's late strike saw off the Canaries at Upton Park and, although the status of both clubs has switched since then, Tony is confident that the underdogs won't pull off a shock this time around.

"It's a bit like trading places after last season's tie, when we were in the Championship and Norwich were the Premiership favourites," he says. "This time Norwich are the underdogs and will be hoping to claim a scalp, but we should have too much quality for them.

"I've seen them recently and, despite winning five games in a row in December, they have still looked a bit short of confidence. They were beaten 3-0 at home by Preston on Monday and it's clear that they are a shadow of the side who almost stayed in the Premiership last year.

"They'll be up for this one, but the good thing is that it will be an open, passing game, and that should suit us. They have some decent attacking players in Huckerby and Ashton, but it's not a bad draw for us and I'd expect us to win."

A return to winning ways would certainly be welcome after three successive Premiership defeats during the hectic holiday period, which ended with a 3-1 defeat against our London rivals Chelsea, and Tony admits to feeling a sense of frustration about the Champions' victory at Upton Park.

"Unfortunately, of the four holiday games we played in the space of seven days, it was Chelsea who were the last team we faced," he says.

"People will say that there is no good time to play Chelsea but, in a period like that, you ideally want to play them first, when your energy levels are high and you can really raise the tempo.

"They came here and enjoyed the luxury of being able to make six changes, while the majority of our players were all playing their second game in three days. Because of that, I think we found it hard to raise the tempo or really get in the face of the champions, which is what you need to do if you are to have any chance of getting a result against them.

"We showed it in spells and, overall, there was no disgrace in our performance, but I'm sure we'd have given them more of a game with a fresh side out."

The good news for Hammers fans is that, after a crippling run of injuries over the Christmas period, Alan Pardew should soon be able to call upon a fully fit squad again.

Danny Gabbidon, Tomas Repka and Teddy Sheringham are all on the verge of returning to action, while there have already been comebacks made by Yossi Benayoun and Nigel Reo-Coker - who is picked out for special praise by Galey after his display against the champions.

"I thought Nigel's performance against Chelsea was immense," says Tony. "To have played four games in seven days having just returned from injury showed what great fitness he has, and also what a great heart he possesses.

"Nigel to me is one of those old-fashioned players who just gets on with everything and never makes a fuss. He still has a lot to work on, but you can tell he wants to learn and improve. There has perhaps been some doubt over his choice of passing and final ball, but he set Marlon up superbly for his goal on Monday, and that shows he is improving."

And as we get set for the second half of the 2005-06 campaign, Tony is urging Hammers fans to stay positive and not forget the tremendous progress made so far this season.

"At the start of the season, I think everyone would have taken 26 points at this stage," he says. "In some ways, perhaps our fans have been a little bit spoilt, if you can call it that, and it was a little disappointing to hear the boos against Wigan, which was really our first bad performance of the season at Upton Park.

"We have to remember how well we played up to Christmas and get back to the approach we had early in the season. Nothing can be taken for granted, because it is going to be tough for us now, but we are at our best when we attack teams and try to control the game, and I'm sure that is what Alan Pardew will be urging his players to do for the rest of the season."