Last word before Blackburn

Alan Curbishley will send his players out to face Blackburn Rovers on Sunday knowing that in Lucas Neill he has "an ideal captain".

The Australia full-back was just what the manager was looking for last January when he was hunting for experienced players to help the club's survival fight. "We bought in somebody very experienced, someone who could take the pressure of one or two people. He has been there and done it and that's why I saw him as an ideal captain."

Curbishley also acquired England defender Matthew Upson at the same time as Neill. Both men picked up injuries on their debuts but Neill was able to get back in the side for the last eleven games - including the key matches that ultimately led to avoiding relegation. "I brought Lucas in because there were three full-backs at the club but they hadn't pinned down the position. Jonathan Spector, who I knew very well because of Charlton, Tyrone Mears and John Pantsil and it just seemed no one had pinned it down. I was looking for a very experienced player to come in and Lucas was available. We worked hard to get him.

"Lucas came to us and immediately had an impact on the dressing room and an impact at the ground. That's what I wanted, I wanted to take the pressure of [Nigel] Reo-Coker as well a little bit. Although Lucas wasn't the captain, he came in and took a lot of weight of people's shoulders and that's something we needed. It left people to get on with their football - especially Nigel, and in the last ten games he was instrumental as much as anybody else."

Another to have played their part in last season's heroics was Bobby Zamora and Curbishley followed up on positive injury news by declaring that "he is in my plans but I have got to wait for him to get fit". The striker has been out since the end of August with a knee injury but the manager was also mindful of expecting too much. "He has obviously been out three months and has got to a bit to do to get back," he added.

Curbishley said he was happy with his squad - particularly as key summer signings like midfielders Scott Parker and Freddie Ljungberg are fully fit, while winger Julien Faubert, yet to play a game, has returned to the club after recovering from his achilles injury in France. Lee Bowyer and Mark Noble are also in contention after hernia operations while Anton Ferdinand is close after his hamstring trouble.

"I have got a big squad," Curbishley said, adding also that Craig Bellamy's progress from an abdominal injury would be monitored closely in the next few days. "If we hadn't carried a big squad, we probably would have been down to playing inexperienced players and at the wrong time. If you are going to put young players in, they have got to go in when the squad is strong. But we have not had to do that. Experienced players have picked it up and got on with it."

They will be expected to do so again on Sunday and the manager was at pains to stress that although the three games in six days - with Everton at home in the Carling Cup and league on Wednesday and Saturday respectively - were all key contests, he was going to take it one step at a time. "I am sure the team that plays against Blackburn will change in the next couple of games. I am going for the league result at Blackburn because we need to get three points - we haven't won for a couple of games and we need to get the strongest possible side out."

That said, there was no denying that the midweek encounter was not an alluring one. "We have attacked the Carling Cup. I think our fans demand that it is a competition that we have a go at. If we get through on Wednesday, it will change the whole complexion of West Ham - everyone will be looking forward to that and it will be a good night."