Pards Previews Palermo Challenge

Tonight West Ham begin their UEFA Cup campaign at home to Palermo and with a squad full of talent itching to show what they can do on the European stage, Pards is keeping his cards close to his chest on who will make the starting line-up.

"Tyrone Mears has only had two days training on the back of an injection, but everyone else is fully fit. I don't want to give too much away about my team selection. The squad have been carrying a bit of baggage from recent events and I will simply pick the team I think will do the best against what are very tricky opponents."

Pards is obviously taking this game and competition as serious as any other and as usual he has had his staff doing their homework on the opposition.

"We sent Keith Peacock and Roger Cross to see Palermo at the weekend and the report came back was that they were fantastic in the first half, but not so good in the second. It's a tough game, really tough.

"The level and standard Palermo are about, from the reports we have got is that they are a very good Serie A team and probably the tip for an outside challenge for the European championship, so we are up against it."

It is not only most of the players that lack European experience, apart from a brief appearance in the Intertoto Cup with Spurs, this is Pards' first taste of UEFA Cup football as well but he has sought advice from those around him who are in the know of what to expect and feels his young side have nothing to fear.

"It's a debut for me and for a lot of my staff as well as the players. Peter Grant has vast knowledge in terms of playing for Celtic in Europe and he has been saying to me what they did right, what worked for them and what didn't.

"So, I have taken all that on board and also spoken to others, to gain as much as I can.

"Obviously Teddy will be around with some tips that he has got, because of the experience he has had. It was a blow to Teddy to not make the bench against Villa, but he reacted brilliantly as you would expect of him.

"He was still around the lads in the dressing room giving them advice and that speaks volumes, he still has a big role to play here, especially on nights like these."

Games under the floodlights at Upton Park are always a special occasion - add a bit of European spice and Pards is sure the atmosphere will be electric tonight.

"I'm hoping tonight will have something about it, I am sure it will. The crowd will be up for it and we want to make sure it has a special atmosphere. There has been a good response so far from the fans for me to believe we will have that again.

"But it won't be won in the first game, there's 16 matches to play and try to win it so there's a long way to go."

We are half-way through a tough week for the Hammers with three matches in the space of eight days but the Manager does not believe the UEFA Cup will act as any sort of distraction from the League and is just happy the Club is where it is at the moment.

"I don't think it will effect our league form. At this stage we have two games to worry about. It's when it gets to the group stages, when we will have to really focus on getting people fresh for Euro games and then seeing who is fresh and recovered, for the following Premiership games, and how we go about that.

"It's an exciting time for us. The other day I walked out onto the training pitch and looked around at the improvements, the team, the two new signings and at the training ground in general and said to Peter Grant, this is the best environment I have been in as a player and certainly as a manager.

"The size and quality of my squad, the dynamics of the training ground and the staff I have around me, I thought to myself we have got a good thing going here and let's make the most of it."