'The run-in starts now'

Alan Curbishley reflected on what might have been after his side dominated proceedings at the City of Manchester on Sunday but had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Carlton Cole gave West Ham United a spectacular eighth-minute lead only for Darius Vassell to soon level for Manchester City with a goal that most neutral observers felt should have been disallowed for offside. Despite that, the visitors had chances to go on and win the game - as in the midweek FA Cup reverse against the same opponents - leaving the manager particularly rueful about the form of home goalkeeper Joe Hart.

"He has been excellent in the two games and probably been the deciding factor why we haven't won both games," said Curbishley. "We are a little bit disappointed. I have got to be pleased with the way we have played. Once again I have had to reshuffle, change it and get on with it. It is great credit to the players that they probably deserved to be the first team to win here.

"We just needed to hang on to that lead for a little bit longer because the way we have been playing, it would have been interesting to see how Man City would have coped. [This season] they have mainly gone in the lead and have then got the ability to hit teams on the break. It spun around a little today so I was hoping we were going to hold off a little bit longer and see what happened because we are not bad at that ourselves. We are obviously disappointed."

A point at the fifth-placed club who have not lost in the league at home all season is no mean feat and Curbishley felt the chance of a break until the visit of Liverpool on Wednesday week should serve his team well. "We do need a little break to be honest. We have been a little bit by injuries and a lot of the players have played every game. I was lucky this week that I could rest Carlton Cole and Hayden Mullins. As it turned out they both had to come back in today for [Dean] Ashton and [Matthew] Etherington.

"The run-in now starts now for us. We got knocked out of the cup, we are turning into the home run and we have really got to see if we can catch the teams above us. We knew it was a big game, if we could have beat them we would have been four points behind them and they have had a fantastic season.

"I have got to give great credit to the players. We have had to chop and change all season because of the disruption to the squad. They have done fantastically well." The manager added that finishing in the top eight was a realistic goal "but we have got to catch the two teams above us - which is Blackburn and Portsmouth - first". Key to making up the ground on the chasing pack will be adopting a more "clinical" approach in front of goal.

"We know we can compete in the Premier League and they are showing that week in, week out. We are turning around now, we are going into the run-in and who knows we might get some fresh legs back. We will see where we are going. I have got to be delighted. Everyone connected with West Ham understands our problems and shares our little bit of frustration but they have got to be pleased with what we are doing at the moment."