West Ham United Assistant Manager Neil McDonald says the players and staff of West Ham are determined to gain promotion through the Play-Off system.
With the semi-final first leg away at Cardiff City on Thursday evening, Macca says the players are focused and ready to add to their 13 away wins this season. With a fully-fit squad to choose from West Ham go into the game with every chance of continuing their fantastic season-long away form at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Is there any team News ahead of the big game tomorrow?
NM: Everybody's fit; everybody is really looking forward to and is excited about the game tomorrow.
How have the preparations been this week ahead of Cardiff?
NM: Very good, the boys are in really good spirits. They have been given one day off and we have had to come to the ground to train because of the weather. Other than that we have had perfect preparations, we are in good spirits and all ready for tomorrow's game.
Any disappointment still left in the players after not gaining automatic promotion?
NM: No I think we were more disappointed after the Bristol City game to be honest, we had to win that game to give ourselves a chance. I think in our heart of hearts we all knew Southampton would beat Coventry at home. But we still had to do our job which we did and now that is two wins at home in a row so the confidence at home is back following the string of draws. Everyone is looking forward to the game in Cardiff but more so to the game on Monday at home.
With regards to Cardiff, the very first game of the season went against you in the last minute but the away game was one of the best performances of the season. Will you be looking to replicate that away performance?
NM: Our away form has been excellent all season so there is no reason why it shouldn't be against Cardiff on Thursday. We have kept to the same preparations as we have all season. We will travel early, train in the morning, the boys will have some rest then it's on to final preparations before the game. There's no reason why we can't keep the form going that we have shown during the season away from home.
Nerves may be a big factor with so much at stake, how do you try and keep the players away from the nerves?
NM: Try and keep routine. I think perfect preparation has been done already this season for away games and we are trying to replicate that for this one. It's been great that everyone has been training there has been great atmosphere and good competition for places. Now it's about trying to pick the right team and getting a good start in the first 90 minutes.
At the start of the season, Sam Allardyce said promotion is what West Ham have to get this season. You're now favourites to win the Play-offs. Does that create a bigger burden for you and the players?
NM: We were favourites to go up so it was slightly disappointing we didn't go up. We will take the tag of favourites for the Play-Offs and we are ready for the two games against Cardiff.
Do you think the players can handle the pressure?
NM: Yes I think they can there is no reason why they shouldn't. There was a little doubt over the home form but we have put that to bed in the last two home games and our away form has been fantastic all season so I don't think we have anything to be afraid of.
Why do you think the away form has been so good but you haven't been able to replicate that at home?
NM: I think teams we play away have to come out and express themselves in front of their own fans. We have had a game plan in away games to frustrate and press and hit teams on the counter attack. At home its slightly different, teams are doing what we do away from home to us so we have to try and combat that. Over the last two games I think we have shown we are capable of that.
Carlton Cole had a great end to the season, four in the last four home matches, how crucial it is Cole is now on top form?
NM: It's crucial for all of the forwards to score. Over the last six games we have had our three top scorers score the majority of our goals. Carlton Cole, Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te, if they can keep that going over the next two games that would be fantastic,
You got some big players with great experience like Kevin Nolan, Robert Green and Carlton Cole. How important is their experience going to be for the younger players in the high pressure situation of the Play Offs?
NM: It's going to be a unique atmosphere for everybody to experience but the experience some of us have will calm everybody down. The ones who haven't played in these games before should be playing in a positive way and without fear. It is having that mixture between youth and experience that I think will work in our benefit.
You have experience in the Play Offs before, how are you going to pass on your experiences?
NM: I've had good and bad times with the Play Offs. I will tell the lads to remain calm, keep everything in routine and make sure the players know their roles. I've had the highs with Bolton beating Preston in the final and I've had the low when I was with Leeds United against Doncaster. It's certainly something that we are looking forward to, that is getting to the final. But it's a very difficult tie to get through against Cardiff but we hope to do our job properly.
A word on Sam, how does he cope with all the pressure?
NM: He copes very well; he is methodical in everything that he does on the opposition team. He is thinking about what team to play, the dynamics of the team itself. Sam tries to keep everything calm which in turn rubs off onto the players. Hopefully that will show on Thursday.
What do you think is the best outcome from Thursday's game?
NM: I think it will be a very close game without a doubt but hopefully we can take advantage of our away form and then bring them back to Upton Park and play positive football, create chances and score lots of goals.