Awayday memories fire TC

West Ham United go to Newcastle United on Saturday looking to extend their unbeaten Premier League away record to an impressive six matches.

Those sorts of runs do not come around very often but there was a memorable instance at the start of the 1986/87 season. Back then, Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie were banging in goals up and down the country as United looked to build on their third-place finish the previous campaign.

Cottee, in particular, was in fine form that autumn, winning his first full England cap as a substitute in Sweden. More than 22 years on, the Hammers legend still looks back on the club's overall ten-match unbeaten run on their travels - including eight Division One and two League Cup fixtures - with pride.

"The previous season we had finished third and we had such great expectations of how the season was going to go, hoping to build on that finish. We were OK at home but nothing brilliant but the away form was really, really good. We actually got to the end of November before we lost our first game. It was ten games unbeaten - eight in the league - and then we got stuffed at Newcastle, which maybe is not a good sign!

West Ham United's run came to an end on 30 November 1986 at St James' Park, with a virtuoso display from former Hammer Paul Goddard leading to a surprising 4-0 defeat.

"Paul has just signed for them from us and he was instrumental in orchestrating our downfall that day. We didn't play very well and I don't think since then that the club has gone unbeaten in so many away games."

That result was in stark contrast to the previous season, when Cottee's goal proved to be the difference between the two sides in a 2-1 West Ham victory on Tyneside. McAvennie was also on target, scoring his tenth goal of the season in a game that was played as early as 5 October.

"I remember that game. It was in the days before saturation coverage on TV and I remember my goal. It was a long punt down the middle and I just got on the end of it and hit it first time. Frank had scored just before me and it put us 2-0 up. They got one back but we won the game and it was a great result. We were flying that season."

More than two decades on and Gianfranco Zola's team have rediscovered their Midas touch away from home, winning at Sunderland and Portsmouth and drawing at Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Chelsea. Cottee himself has been hugely impressed by the Hammers' form on their travels.

"It's been a great run of form when you think that a couple of those games were away to Chelsea and Liverpool as well. You could say we caught both teams at the right time but that would be taking away from the performances of the lads. We've gone away to some really difficult places and got some wonderful results.

"It's highly unusual because normally it's the home form that's so good for West Ham but this time it's the away form that's getting us through. It's been a long time since we were so good away from home."

West Ham United's record will be severely tested at Newcastle, where they have not won since October 1998, but Cottee believes Zola's players have what it takes to extend their run to a round half-dozen.

"It's the passion of the fans that makes it a difficult ground to play at. As a player you look forward to the big games and, going back 20 years, there was still a great atmosphere at Newcastle. To go to there in front of 50,000-odd Geordies screaming and with your few fans stuck up in the Gods means it's a difficult place to go.

"Newcastle are fighting for their lives so it will be a tough game. Our two wins over the Christmas period lifted us up into tenth place and, if we can win, it would be great and we could almost start thinking about getting a European place. It's an important game."

One man the Hammers must pay close attention to if they are to secure another positive result is the Magpies' England striker Michael Owen. The 29-year-old has hit nine goals this season - including Newcastle's consolation in their 3-1 defeat at the Boleyn Ground last September - and Cottee has warned Matthew Upson and James Collins to be on their guard.

"I'm a huge fan. He's a really good goalscorer. I love watching Michael. He doesn't contribute an awful lot outside the penalty area but if you get the ball to him it's one or two touches and it's in the back of the net. Matt and James will have to be very careful to keep an eye on Michael because if you give him half a chance he will score. Hopefully they'll have an off-day or the service won't be very good. The main thing really is to stop his supply but we need to keep an eye on him."