Curbs looking forward to Wigan challenge

An army of more than 5,000 East Enders head to the JJB Stadium on Saturday knowing that victory will take Alan Curbishley's troops level on points with Wigan Athletic.

And the Hammers boss is determined to make sure that it proves an awesome away-day for everyone connected with the claret and blue.

"We've got to give the fans something next weekend," he insists, following Saturday's battling victory against high-flying Everton that rekindled his side's survival hopes.

"It's terrific that we've got so many supporters going up there and, although the players and the club have helped out with the free coaches, I still think that they all would have gone to Wigan anyway. They're amazing!

"I'm not used to managing a club where we sell out whole ends at away grounds and we've got to give them something to sing about on Saturday.

"It was a fantastic result for us to get a win over Everton and the players put in a terrific performance but, once again, it's come against a top side. Now we've got to start thinking about how we can reproduce that type of display against a side that's in a similar league position to us."

Despite the blips of two dismally, disastrous defeats against struggling Sheffield United and quadruple-chasing Chelsea, four wins and three clean sheets from the last six outings have certainly handed Hammers renewed hope of avoiding the dreaded drop.

"Although it was galling that we never got anything out of the game, looking back, it all started against Tottenham Hotspur," suggests Curbs. "And the intensity of our recent performances at Upton Park makes you wonder why it hasn't been there whenever we've played the sides around us in the Premiership table.

"Before the Everton game we asked the team to give the fans something to get behind because you can see the difference whenever we've given ourselves and the supporters a chance.

"Bobby Zamora has scored some terrific goals for us. We've been patching him up and putting him out there and I think he's revelled in that. He's very fit, very strong and an honest player, too.

"Some of the stuff we produced on the break and in general play might even have forced another couple of goals against Everton and we haven't defended like that too often, either.

"After that tough game against Chelsea on Wednesday, we had a lot of tired people and I felt that I had to cover myself in a few positions," reveals Curbs, justifying his decision not to name a reserve goalkeeper against Everton - the first time that Hammers have had a quintet of outfield players on the bench since the five-substitute rule was introduced in 1996.

"It's only the second time that I've ever done that in 750 games as a manager. On the other occasion, I had no choice because all of my other goalies were injured.

"And in that game the 'keeper went and got himself sent off so Steve Brown - who's now the reserve team coach here at West Ham - had to go in goal!"

For a few worrying moments, it looked as though Curbs had come unstuck against the Toffees, too, when Robert Green threw off his gloves in agony.

"I had taken a gamble and when 'Greeny' started feeling his finger, I looked around at the dug-out only to hear someone shout: 'Get Ludo Miklosko on!' but thankfully, he was okay."

It may be uncertain whether the Hammers boss will be inclined to take the same risk again on Saturday but one thing is for sure - with 32 points now on the board, a precious victory at wobbling Wigan would be another giant leap towards Premiership safety.

"I've said all along that the big games when you're down at the bottom of the table are the ones against the teams around you and, after our win over Everton, there's still light at the end of the tunnel," he concludes. "Although I see the ability that we've got at this club in training every day, on a lot of occasions since I've been here, that hasn't always gone out onto the pitch.

"We went into the Everton game telling the players that at 4.45pm it could all be changed around and now we go to Wigan knowing that the table could be altered all over again at the same time on Saturday, too. That's all we can hope for at the moment."

by Steve Blowers