Neill looking to August opener

Lucas Neill is focused firmly on the opening game of the 2008/09 season with the publication this week of the full fixture programme.

The West Ham United captain is not needed for international duty this weekend with Australia through to the second stage of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup before the now academic concluding first-stage match against China in Sydney. Instead, the right-back is looking next to club commitments and a strong start come the arrival of Wigan Athletic on 16 August.

He said: "When the fixtures come out it gives you something to focus on straight away and you switch your mentality from being on a break and recovering from last season to preparing and getting fit and ready for the new season. It is good to be starting at home as it should mean we get off to a positive start and state our intentions for the season and finishing at home [against Middlesbrough on 24 May] as well is always good."

Neill was particularly buoyed by the run of fixtures in the first couple of months of a campaign that should see plenty of competition for places. "It is early to say but looking at the first eight games we are confident with the squad we have that we can get off to a good start. Man City and Blackburn will both have new managers by then so will still be adjusting to a new style of play."

Stressing the difficulties of all opponents in the top flight amid the reasons for optimism, he added: "There are obviously two newly promoted teams who will also be finding their feet and Fulham, Bolton and Wigan all finished at the wrong end of the table last season so yes on paper it does look like we could start very well but there are no easy games in the Premier League as we all know.

"Another thing the fixtures coming out does is give everyone the chance to draw a line under last season and the injury problems we had. The injured players and physios have been working very hard over the summer to get everyone back for pre-season and it looks like the manager will have a near on fully-fit squad to choose from for the Wigan game which as captain is a very exciting prospect as I can really see this squad reaching it's full potential this season."