Curbs: I'm really looking forward to next season!

For so long, it looked all set to end in a relegation nightmare. But by the time the curtain fell down on a rollercoaster season at the Theatre of Dreams, Alan Curbishley had masterminded the greatest of great escapes.

And that means the relieved Hammers' boss can now positively set his sights firmly on next term.

"I hadn't spoken to the chairman about the scenario of what would happen if we stayed up or if we went down," says Curbs, who now plans to start drawing up his summer battle plan with Eggert Magnusson, safe in the knowledge that, come August, his side will still be kicking-off in the Barclays Premier League.

"We all need a break and a bit of a rest but we'll have a meeting on Wednesday so that we can start looking forward to next season.

"Hopefully, the events of this year will hold us in good stead because it's been a real learning curve for everyone.

"And to have got seven wins out of our final nine games is unbelievable, especially when you consider the opposition that we've faced recently.

"We've also had a barrage of negative press, which wasn't helped by some of our earlier performances and a few other things that crept into the newspapers, while the Tevez-Mascherano affair has become the bandwagon for everyone to jump upon, too.

"When I came here in December, things had already gone on but then they held the inquiry and gave their verdict. We've become public enemy number one but the Premier League have said that it's over and that's it. I don't think that their decision will be overturned and it's all out of my hands, just like it's always been.

"The win at Manchester United wasn't just a one-off, though," insists the Hammers boss, having seen Carlos Tevez secure safety with a priceless first-half winner at Old Trafford.

"We've had some magnificent performances lately from players such as Tevez, Robert Green, James Collins, Lucas Neill, Mark Noble, Anton Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora. They've all played their part and it's been a great effort.

"I've certainly learned a lot and I hope that the players have, too, because it'll hold us all in good stead for next season.

"All week, people were saying that Manchester United would beat us and everything would be decided by events at Sheffield United, where it would've been all over if we'd lost and Wigan had won.

"But we also knew that if everyone approached their matches correctly then it could've all come back and bitten us. After all, Sheffield United were looking at their situation thinking that they only had to win their game and that just goes to show how difficult it actually is down at the bottom.

"We knew all the permutations and realised that we had to get at least a point," continues Curbs after steering Hammers to an incredible double over the Premiership champions, while Neil Warnock's Blades saw their Premiership lifeline cruelly cut by Wigan's win.

"We were hearing conflicting stories from Bramall Lane but when I heard that Wigan were down to 10 men and winning 2-1 it was still all in the balance because Manchester United could have scored and turned it all on its head again.

"To come away from Old Trafford with the win was the bonus ball but whenever United tried to create anything we got there, we blocked it and put our bodies on the line. It was a great effort and we've pulled off an amazing escape!"

Certainly, when he trudged away from his old stamping ground at The Valley in late February, Curbs could hardly have contemplated such a spectacular late reprieve after a 0-4 defeat left Hammers nine points adrift of safety.

"I came home from Charlton feeling very despondent," he reveals. "It had been difficult coming into the club in mid-season and I'd already had lots of injuries and other things to contend with.

"We didn't put up much of a show against my old club, while some of the players that I'd signed had picked up injuries, too. It wasn't happening and you just couldn't see where another result was coming from.

"Some of the West Ham fans were even telling me to go back to Charlton because no-one could work out what was happening to this club! Remember, this time last year West Ham were contesting an FA Cup final and they'd had a great season.

"But the problems started with all the injuries and the operations after the players came home from the Millennium Stadium.

"All along, though, people at the club were telling me that if we could only pick up a couple of results, then I'd see the difference in the players and that's exactly what happened.

"Although we ended losing it in the end, our next match against Tottenham Hotspur really galvanised us," recalls Curbs, after a 3-4 defeat against Martin Jol's men left Hammers rock-bottom in the Premiership table, 10 points adrift of safety with just those nine games to play.

"But apart from Lucas Neill and, more recently Luis Boa Morte, it really has been the players who were already in the side before I got here, who have got us out of trouble. That just goes to show that, somehow, the ability that was here all along had escaped us in the early part of the season.

"I've got to give great credit to the team for going on to produce those seven wins out of our final nine matches.

"Although I can't put my finger on it, it just goes to show what can be achieved. All I've done is kept things low key and the training simple and the results have picked up alongside the confidence.

"All along, I said that I hoped to bring in some senior players alongside the young talent that we again saw against Manchester United and it's been up to me to get the best out of them.

"We've also had a settled side in recent weeks and we can now look forward to welcoming back some big-hitters such as Dean Ashton, Danny Gabbidon and Matthew Upson, too.

"But just like any other club, players will also come and go during the summer," predicts Curbs. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens but, in the meantime, I'm big on pre-season preparation and I'm really looking forward to next year."

by Steve Blowers