Captain's Blog - Sunderland in sight

In the first of his new regular blogs, West Ham United captain Lucas Neill reveals that he is raring to go against Sunderland on Sunday, talks about the differing fortunes of Craig Bellamy and Dean Ashton, and just why he is backing South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final.

As we are all aware we are going through a bit of an indifferent period in terms of results. We are really being put to the test with the disruption of injuries to key players and it is obviously affecting the manager's and team's preparations.

It is obviously disappointing that we do not have our best tools available to work with so to speak but you have to stick together when times get a little bit tough and it is no excuse for going out and not performing. The record shows we have lost our last three league games but the reality is in all those games we have had opportunities to take points out of them and possibly even win them.

Me personally, I know I have been involved with some of the build-up to conceding goals which is disappointing from my point of view but like everybody else I am working hard to improve and making sure to learn from these mistakes. The team is still very confident, we go into every game thinking we can win, whoever we are playing, because we know we can beat anyone on our day so now we are just working on cutting out the mistakes that are costing us and the goals will come because the performances aren't that far away.

It was a nice bonus for me to actually get some time off in this international break as I am used to travelling all over the world and playing for Australia but we have found ourselves with no game this time round. I know it has become noticeable that in the last month I was looking a bit jaded from all my travelling and playing in the summer and I haven't felt at the top of my game but this was the first time in three years I haven't had to go away on international duty. It has done me the world of good as I have felt really fresh in the past week. I am really looking forward to the game and getting back into it feeling like I have had a proper break and knowing my energy levels are back up and I feel sharper.

I welcome the players, staff and fans of Sunderland. In Roy Keane they have a very good manager who I have always had a lot of respect and admiration for as I have been growing up, watching and playing football so no doubt he will have his team playing with the same mentality that he used to like to play with.

It will be a difficult game and like teams before them they will be looking to come to Upton Park to frustrate us so we are going to have to take the game to them. I fully believe after the break we have had and our recent results this is the perfect opportunity to set the record straight and get back into winning ways, we have slipped down the table because of the results and we want to get back to that top eight where we believe we should be.

I was really disappointed for Deano after the Aston Villa game, he had worked so hard to get back to playing and to get an England call-up as a reward for all his hard work was a lift for the whole team. So to have that taken away from him 20 minutes before he was due to join up with them was a real sickner. But to be fair to him he hasn't let his head drop and just got on with getting back fit again for West Ham as he has always maintained that is his priority first and foremost.

In losing one striker we are getting another one back in the shape of Bellars who has recovered remarkably from his groin operation to play both games for Wales so he will be fit and raring to go for this game. His pace, experience and work rate have been missed of late because he adds a different dimension to the team and always puts defenders on the back foot because they are always worrying about being caught out by him. So we are looking forward to having him back and see him pick up where he left off.

The Sunderland game marks our day of action to support the Kick It Out campaign which began this week. It is an initiative backed by all football clubs to help kick racism out of football and various things are taking place throughout the day to get the 'One Game, One Community' message out there. There is absolutely no place for racism in the game, on the pitch or the terraces. Football is played and followed by every race all around the world so it is something we all strongly believe in and support as players.

We drew Coventry for the next round of the Carling Cup, I am sure we will have a big following up there for that match so I thank you in advance for that. It will be a game we are expected to win and perform well in but they will be a tough proposition at home and will be buoyed on by their giant-killing efforts in the previous round beating Man Utd. We on the other hand will be spurred on by the knowledge that if we win that game we will be one step closer to Wembley and a cup final in a tournament we know we can win.

I say this with tongue in cheek and it does hurt to have to say it but congratulations to England for reaching the Rugby World Cup final! As a proud Aussie, it was a bitter pill to swallow when England beat us on the way to the final, therefore, for changing room reasons I want South Africa to win as it will mean I can give the boys some banter about it on Monday!

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Lucas Neill