Grant: Players are in great shape for new season

Peter Grant has paid tribute to the physical condition of the first team squad since the return to pre-season training last week and is backing them to better their achievements of the last campaign.

Alan Pardew's players have been working hard at Chadwell Heath following a six-week summer break that enabled them to enjoy complete rest after a long and arduous season, and our Assistant Manager is delighted by what he has seen in the past seven days.

"It's great for the staff to come in and see that the players have looked after themselves so well during the summer," says Peter. "Long gone are the days of footballers going off and abusing their fitness during the close season.

"Yes, they still enjoy themselves and relax - they have to let their hair down during that period of time and make sure they get some rest, but players have realised now that the best way to get on in this game is to keep yourself in tip-top condition at all times.

"Pre-season is one of the most important stages of the year and it's a huge bonus if you can get everyone through it without injury. Everything is geared to making sure that we are ready for the start of the Premiership on August 19, and the players have given themselves every chance of making sure they achieve that thanks to their fitness levels since returning."

After a ninth place Premiership finish and memorable FA Cup final appearance in our first season back in the top flight, expectation levels have reached a new level at Upton Park ahead of the new campaign and Peter insists that everyone is looking forward to the challenge of reaching the next level.

"There is a big challenge in front of all of us next season, to improve on what we achieved," he says. "We made massive leaps last year, and it's not always possible to make those kind of strides every year, but if every single player can make just a 1% improvement then we are looking at a 25% team improvement on last season.

"That's what we want to try and achieve, but we know there is a hell of a long way to go before we become the finished article. And the teams who do reach the top stay there because they don't relax - they keep looking for ways to stay ahead of the field and work even harder to do that.

"People keep saying that the second year will be harder for us, but every season is hard, and as long as you keep your standards up and work hard to improve yourself, then progress will continue in the right direction.

"We're been trying to build a culture here that filters through the staff and the players - that every day is different and has something new to aim for. We will have our ups and downs, as you always do in football, but the main thing is to keep looking forward and trying to improve.

"We finished ninth in the Premiership last season - we want to better that this season. We reached a major cup final - we want to win one this season. And we've got the new challenge of European football this year, which we want to make a regular occurrence at this Club.

"The players here have got to have the mentality of: 'Let's go again' as we start the new season and, having watched them closely since they returned to training, that certainly looks to be the case."