Pards boosted by return to winning ways

Alan Pardew admits that the return to winning ways in the Premiership has served to strengthen the spirit in the West Ham United camp ahead of the trip to Middlesbrough this coming weekend.

The Hammers boss says it has been a week in which the players and staff have been able to take another step forward following the 1-0 victory over Arsenal last Sunday, but insists there is still a lot of hard work to be done in order to get out of the position they find themselves in.

"The spirit of the team has been very high again and that was probably the biggest factor in our victory, the return of that in a stronger fashion," says Pards. "I have had a good week of looking at the team, realising that some of my players have returned to form.

"Everybody has been in good shape in training, and we had a good reserve outing in the week, so there have been a lot of good things for us to experience.

"But I have made it loud and clear that I don't feel we are out of the mire yet. We've had a couple of great results, but I made sure the players didn't get the wrong message in that they think 'oh, alright, we've got a couple of victories that's good'. To be fair to them, they don't think like that.

"The standard I set here for the players is for all of them to keep the intensity and the passion against whoever we play. And it won't be acceptable to me if I don't see the same passion that we had against Blackburn and Arsenal when we travel to Middlesbrough.

"We have gone back to the work ethic and spirit that we know," he adds. "To be fair, that has not gone away, but perhaps the confidence to go and close teams down that comes from winning a game, was not evident, and now it is.

"They got this from the win over Blackburn and that, for me, was all that was probably missing from the group. Of course you question if what you are doing is the right thing when you are not winning, so in a way the Blackburn result would have had more of an effect than the Arsenal match, because it gave us belief in what we were doing was right."

The Hammers boss will be up against an old friend on Saturday in Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate. The pair, who keep in regular contact, know each other well from their playing days together at Crystal Palace.

While all friendship will be out of the window for the 90 minutes on Saturday, as Hammers look to make it three wins in a row, Pards will catch a word with his counterpart after the match.

"Gareth is a good friend of mine," he says. "I spoke to him the other week and about the difficulties he's facing up there, but I think he's an astute guy and there are plenty of people within the game who will help him.

"He was a young guy at Palace when I was a senior pro there. He was my dogsbody if you like, but a very good one! I'm being tongue in cheek here, Gareth was a nice kid, he had the mickey taken out of him for his clothes, but he's got a bit of a trendy hairstyle now I see! In all seriousness, as I said, he's a nice guy and I like him.

"One thing I do remember from those days is the absolute focus Gareth had on being a professional footballer. He worked on every aspect and from that he went on to achieve a lot in the game, which was fantastic for him and I'm sure he can take that passion into his role as manager of Middlesbrough and be a success."

The Hammers boss will be hoping to take an almost fully-fit squad to the Riverside, with the only doubts being Anton Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora.

Ferdinand had to limp off just before half-time against Arsenal last weekend after suffering a blow to his Achilles tendon when blocking a shot. A scan this week has revealed some bruising and the defender will face a late fitness test before the trip north. Zamora will also be monitored after suffering a knock on his ankle, also against Arsenal, but defender James Collins returns to the squad after recovering from a groin injury.

Pards adds: "Given the run we had recently, there were questions asked of us, but I knew I had a great team of staff behind me, great players and at some point, the run would end and we needed to keep looking forward to that.

"Our players have had a lift from the Blackburn match, followed that with the win against Arsenal and we want to take all of that into our game once again on Saturday."

by Laura Burkin