Name: John Hartson
Date of birth: 5 April 1975, Swansea, Wales
Position: Striker
Debut: Premier League, Derby County 1-0 West Ham United, 15 February 1997
Final game: FA Cup third-round replay, Swansea City 1-0 West Ham United, 13 January 1999
Appearances: 73

On 24 February 1997, John Hartson stated his arrival at the Boleyn Ground with real intent.

Having just signed from Arsenal in a big-money move, the Wales striker scored with a thumping header and then won the decisive penalty as the Hammers moved out of the relegation zone with a barnstorming 4-3 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur.

Hartson would go on to play a pivotal part in the club's successful survival fight - with his partnership with Paul Kitson, another new recruit, a major factor. Fourteen years later, Hartson was back at the Boleyn this week for the FA Cup defeat of Burnley and saw enough to think the new generation could emulate the team he served to distinction for two years.

Fuelling the optimism is the presence of Thomas Hitzlsperger, man of the match on his debut, and Demba Ba, two new faces in the claret and blue ranks, alongside in-form men like Scott Parker and Carlton Cole. Hartson believed that Avram Grant had the necessary tools to get the team up to 17th or better by Sunday 22 May.

"Hitzlsperger is very experienced. He has played at the top in Germany for Stuttgart and also played for his national team many times. He is a good player. It was a great goal, a great strike.

"Having him back is like making a new signing in January. It is great. He has got a rifle of a left foot and he gives you a bit of balance. He plays well and is comfortable on the ball."

Naturally as a fearsome forward himself, the 35-year-old saw plenty of potential in powerhouse Demba Ba. "I like him. He has great feet, a good touch. He is a big lad with presence. He is a good age and has a couple of goals already.

"With Ba and Carlton Cole, West Ham looked a real handful against Burnley, especially in the second half. Scotty Parker is vital to the team. I think they can do it. They have a tough run-in but I think they can just manage to do it.

"There are great players here. Scotty gives you that great energy and has quality. Cole has started to score the big goals again and is very important. His second goal was the finish of a confident striker. He timed his run perfectly well."

Although the club are contemplating an FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke City on Sunday 13 March, Hartson believed all at West Ham would gladly put their Barclays Premier League status before a Wembley day-out.

"It is a distraction really because where the team are in the league but it is a nice distraction as the cup is a special competition. The FA Cup is a wonderful opportunity. The club is steeped in its history - they have won it three times - and it is a great opportunity this season."

Hartson is a popular face at the Boleyn Ground and Hammers fans united with the rest of the footballing world in their delight at his successful battle against cancer last year. It was a challenge he met head on, just as he did when he led the line for the Hammers home and away in scoring 33 goals in 73 matches.

"They get behind you here. There is no better place to play when things are going well although when things are not going so well, they are not shy in letting you know either.

"It is a fantastic place to play with fantastic supporters. I love coming here."

Gazing around the stadium from his pitchside position, Hartson admitted he would be sad to say goodbye to the Boleyn Ground with the club's plans for the Olympic Stadium gathering pace. "They have all played here, the great Bobby Moore. It is a fantastic ground."

That said, he is certain the Hammers know what they are doing.

"I can't for the life of me think that Mr Gold and Mr Sullivan would do anything that would jeopardise this club. They are West Ham supporters through and through and they are only moving simply because they want to improve the club, they want to take the club forward."

Like everyone connected with West Ham, however, he knows that the focus must first and foremost be on the pitch - starting with Liverpool this afternoon. "I am sure Avram would swap Monday night for three points in the league.

"I am sure he would also go out of the cup at Stoke in a couple of weeks in return for a Premier League place. That said, he is right to want to win every single game."