Collins makes case for defence

James Collins is braced for a "big game" on Sunday when he will be part of a rearguard that will look to keep Sunderland at bay and propel West Ham United up the table.

A win in the north-east would move Gianfranco Zola's men to within two points of seventh place and the Wales defender said there was a determination to make the most of the positives of last week's solid home goalless draw with Portsmouth. "It is a big game for us," said Collins. "We got the clean sheet and the point last Saturday and hopefully we can build on that.

"We can go there and put in a good performance again. We have been playing very well but the luck hasn't been going for us. Hopefully that has changed for Sunday. The whole team has been playing well, some nice football. Hopefully we can [start to] hang on to wins instead of turning them into draws and losses."

Collins will be once again be partnering the "top class" Matthew Upson and the centre-backs are on a high following midweek wins with Wales and England respectively. "We are both playing quite well. Obviously results haven't gone the way we would like them to and we have conceded a few too many goals but the basic defending we are doing quite well. Hopefully the luck will change and we will start getting some results."

The defensive duo will know they face a tough afternoon against the Sunderland attack at the Stadium of Light. "Djibril Cisse and Kenwyne Jones up front are quite a forceful pairing so we are going to have our work cut out," said Collins. "That is why you play in the Premier League though, you want to be testing yourself against these sorts of players."

Sunderland also have two former Hammers in their ranks in George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand. Their respective places have been taken by Herita Ilunga, the club's reigning player of the month, and Collins himself. "Anton is such a great lad but every cloud has a silver lining and I had a chance to step back into the team. I haven't really spoken to him since he left so I am looking forward to seeing him."

Zola has shown plenty of faith in Collins and he is determined to repay that as the season progresses. "He is brilliant. He always says 'come in and train with a smile on your face'. He is always happy and jolly … he is not one to shout and scream but you certainly know when he is angry and when we haven't played too well."

Key to the visitors' chances could be Craig Bellamy, and Collins believes his international colleague's goal in midweek could spark lift-off. "I said to him that will be the start of things to come. Sometimes you need a goal to come off your knee or just a horrible strike to get you going and fingers crossed he can do that for West Ham now."

Relishing his return from a knee injury that kept him out for six months, Collins is clear that West Ham are a "great club" and that "everyone is happy here and just concentrating on three points on Sunday". He added: "We have got to keep hold of all our best players and try and climb up the league … we have got a great squad with some great players."