For the fourth time in six years, Alan Curbishley will
provide the opposition for Manchester United's final home of
But with the relegation equation still to be solved, the Hammers boss is hoping that his in-form side can come up with a four-midable answer to the test that Sir Alex Ferguson's Premiership champions will undoubtedly pose them on Survival Sunday.
"When you look down the fixture list and see that you've got Manchester United in the last game of the season, you usually tend to hope that there's not going to be too much riding on it," says Curbs whose Charlton Athletic side - with its safety ensured - endured two defeats and a gritty goalless draw in those three visits to Old Trafford. "It's ironic that I'm now going back there with West Ham.
"There are always twists and turns on the last day, you can't always tell how it's going to fall and we can only go up there and do our own bit. A few weeks ago, I said that we needed at least 38 points to survive and, all along, I've said that we need to take the majority of the points. I still think that's the case.
"But for the first time in weeks, we can now go to Old Trafford knowing that survival is in our own hands."
Certainly, with six victories in their last eight matches, the Hammers prepare to pull down the curtain at the Theatre of Dreams, knowing that the nightmares of weeks gone by have all but been erased.
"We go there filled with lots of confidence having now given ourselves a chance," continues Curbs, who will have one ear anxiously trained on events at the equally defining Sheffield United versus Wigan Athletic survival showdown.
"To be honest, I'm not happy about Rafael Benitez
making so many changes to his side that lost at Fulham but everyone
has their own priorities and I don't suppose that he'll
ever find out what it's like to be in the bottom three!
Liverpool had just played in a massive Champions League semi-final,
though, and perhaps he had tired bodies which meant he needed to
bring in fresh players.
"We just had to get on with it and to do our bit against Bolton Wanderers and, fortunately, a couple of the other results also went our way to take us out of bottom three for the first time since I've been here.
"The opening half-hour was fantastic, our three goals were great and they filled the players with confidence.
"While Carlos Tevez understands all what's going on around him off the pitch, it probably helps that he can't speak the language or read the newspapers. Clearly, he feels that it's nothing to do with him and he just wants to play his football.
"He's built up a special relationship with the fans. When I came here and we played Manchester United, I picked a side for the first game that I knew. I hadn't really seen Tevez play but the fans were calling for him. They were singing for him in the next game and the match after that, too, and despite not playing it was obvious that he'd still built something up with the fans.
"Since he's come into the team, all I've asked him to do is play further up the pitch and get into the final third a bit more for me. Carlos now puts people under pressure and he also relieves it by holding onto the ball.
"The goals have come and although he's become a very important player for us, it's not just about Carlos Tevez, because a lot of the other players have been performing well in recent weeks, too.
"To be playing the way we are right now leaves you wondering why we haven't managed to do it all season. I've always asked whether results breed confidence or whether confidence breeds results? Either way, you need both and since the Tottenham Hotspur game, the self-belief has come back and we've now got players doing things naturally that, perhaps, they wouldn't have tried five or six weeks ago.
"We've also got a settled side that isn't being ravaged by injury week-in, week-out, any more and that helps, too," concludes Curbs as he prepares to focus on those final 90 make or break minutes of the campaign. "If we go up to Old Trafford and take anything then we'll have done our bit. As I've said, it's in our hands, we're out of the bottom three and we've given ourselves a chance. The question is: Can we grab it?
"The inspiration is to stay in the Premiership and if we can deliver that then West Ham United should be looking forward to better things next year. Let's hope we can do it!"
by Steve Blowers