Stew up for Black Cats battle

Stewart Downing is relishing Monday's return to his native North East.

The winger was born and came through the ranks at Middlesbrough, just 25 miles down the coast from West Ham United's opponents Sunderland - a club where he spent time on loan in 2003.

While he would ultimately like the Black Cats to stay in the Barclays Premier League due to his regional affiliation, Downing will be going all out to fire the Hammers to a sixth victory in nine games.

"It will be good going back up there and it's a big game for us," said the No23. "They need points as well desperately and I think, if we can get a win, that would deflate them a little bit.

"Obviously for the North East it would not be good if they go down, but I'm at West Ham now and my priority is that we stay in this league. There will be no sentiment. I had a loan spell there and it's a great club but they're in that situation because of their performances over the season. We'll be looking to win the game.

"I enjoyed a good couple of months at Sunderland under Mick McCarthy. It's a great football club with good fans who sold out the ground in the Championship, so it will be a good atmosphere on Monday.

"They need the points as quickly as possible. They have got a couple of games in hand, but they're difficult games, so they're probably looking at this one as one to win, but we're looking to win as well!"

Some pundits have suggested that one more victory would make West Ham all but mathematically safe in the Barclays Premier League on 37 points, but Downing says the Hammers will not be resting on their laurels, even if they do score a win at Sunderland.

"You'd like to think one more win would be enough, but it's been a strange old league this season - we won four, then lost three - and teams are beating each other. We just need to get as many wins on the board and keep the momentum going by winning and winning. We can't think one more win will be enough because then we could get dragged back in again."

Monday's game comes six days after a welcome 2-1 home win over Hull City that attracted some headlines for the reaction of a minority of supporters at the final whistle.

When asked about that reaction, Downing simply stated the importance of the team and supporters sticking together as they have done during a rollercoaster 2013/14 campaign.

"You need your fans onside because the biggest thing at a football club is the fans. We've not given them much to shout about during a difficult season, but they've stuck with us the whole way through and I'd ask them to stay with us right to the end. If we keep getting results, we'll stay in the Premier League.

"Players always hear it. The fans have been terrific at home, so there was a few things said at half-time, but what is said in the dressing room will stay there. I've heard worse than that before - I've been playing for England when we've been booed by 90,000 people!

"I won't let it affect me as an experienced player, but it can affect the younger ones, so I would ask the fans to stick with the players at home and we'll try to get them results.

"I enjoy playing at Upton Park, because the atmosphere has been really good up until Wednesday night, when it was a bit strange. The fans appreciate it that we're trying our best and they always stuck behind us when we were struggling with injuries.

"Hopefully, in the next game against Liverpool we'll give them something to cheer about and it'll all be forgotten about."