Fletcher's green, green grass of home

As Hayden Mullins sadly finds himself forced to sit out the action at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, Carl Fletcher looks to set emerge from the shadows after suddenly being thrust under the spotlight.

"It's unfortunate for Hayden because he's done fantastically well for the team all year," concedes the Welsh international, who now seems certain to start against Liverpool in the FA Cup final. "It's a massive disappointment for everyone and we all feel for him after all the hard work that he's put in this season.

"All year we've stuck together and got behind one another and it's no different now. We all know that 11 players won't win things for you, it's about the 25 members of the squad.

"Alan Pardew has done very well this season, he's made some good signings and proved a few people wrong. He gets paid to pick the team, too, and no matter what selection decisions he's made throughout the year, they've always been accepted by all the players. There haven't been any splits in the camp and that bond has really helped us."

Certainly, the 26-year-old's renaissance could not have come at a better time. After finding himself farmed out on loan to Watford at the beginning of the campaign, he had made just four starts before returning to the first-team fold for Hammers' back-to-back victories over West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur.

"When I was at Bournemouth, I was used to playing full seasons, so this is the first year that I've had to take a back seat," continues Fletch, who also gave Pards a timely reminder of what he has got in his locker with that scorching 30-yard opener against Spurs. "You have to keep your head down, work hard and then take the opportunity when it comes along.

"As I've said there are 25 squad players here and they're all trying to get into those 11 starting positions because everyone wants to play every game that they possibly can.

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"Football changes from one day to the next, though, and I truly believe you'll get what you deserve if you work hard. When I came back from Watford I knew that every day, every training session, every reserve match and every first-team game represented a chance for me.

"Now the FA Cup will be a great day for everyone and if I'm lucky enough to play then hopefully I'll be able to take my opportunity in that one, too. After all, it's every footballer's dream to play in an FA Cup final and I'm no different.

"As a kid, I can remember watching the Tottenham Hotspur versus Coventry City final in 1987 and that hooked me. Now it's going to be an honour just to be involved at Cardiff."

Not that Surrey-born Fletcher is any stranger to the Welsh capital. Indeed, back in September he found himself lining up for Wales against England in front of over 70,000 fans for a World Cup qualifier in which ex-Hammer Joe Cole netted the only goal of the game.

And he also found himself standing toe-to-toe against one of Saturday's chief adversaries, too.

"Yes, Steven Gerrard is one of the best midfielders in the world and everyone who comes up against him finds it tough," admits the man with 52 Hammers outings under his belt. "You have to concentrate for 90 minutes because it only takes a couple of seconds for a quality player like him to unlock the door. You have to be on your toes. England had David Beckham and Frank Lampard in their midfield, too, so it was a pretty tough day!

"Every Premiership player has got a big reputation, though, and that's the thrill of playing football at this level. You want to challenge yourself against the best teams and, on Saturday, it's going to boil down to 11 West Ham players versus 11 from Liverpool. As far as we're concerned, we've got to go out there and do our own thing.

"The Millennium Stadium has got a great atmosphere and I've got some very fond memories of the place, but I don't care whether this match is being played at Cardiff, Wembley or in a field down the road, I'd go round the world to play in an FA Cup final."