Alan Curbishley has paid tribute to the contribution of Hayden Mullins this season - describing the midfielder as his "unsung hero".
The 28-year-old has yet again been impressive at the heart of the West Ham United midfield this season and Curbishley recognised that Mullins may have been concerned about his place last summer with the arrival of two big signings. "We bought Scott Parker and Kieron Dyer in and he must have looked at that and thought there is a bit of competition here but he has stayed strong," the manager said. "He has stayed fit and he has played every game. He has deserved to be playing in every game."
Mullins himself has spoken about the impact of increased competition for places on his game. "You can deal with it in two ways. You can let your head drop, which will affect your game or you can let it bring out the best in you as a player with the competition it creates. I want to be at this club with these kinds of players around me, which is going to be pushing for bigger things.
"I just put my head down and got on with it. Then a couple of injuries occurred, I got my chance and made sure to make the most of it," he added in an interview with the official matchday programme. Mullins has certainly made the most of his time at the Boleyn Ground - playing in 25 of the club's 26 league games this season as well as four in the cups. The definition of a reliable performer, he made 30 league appearances in 2003/04, 40 in 2004/05, 35 in 2005/06 and 30 in 2006/07.
Mullins will soon have increased competition again with Parker closer to a first-team return although unlikely to figure in any of the three first-team matches over the next week. "We are hoping to try and get him a game next week - he is not far off again," the manager said, explaining that Parker just missed out on last Monday's reserve fixture at Tottenham Hotspur. "We are a little bit disappointed that if he had got himself right he could have played that game on Monday and been a little bit further forward but he is in full training. He has trained for the last eight days fully. It might be a bit tight for the Tottenham game.