Stewart Downing still believes a strong finish to the season is possible for West Ham United, despite the east Londoners’ travails in recent weeks.
A run of five defeats in their last seven games, have seen hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Europa League by their league position fade, but a trip to struggling Queens Park Rangers on Saturday offers an opportunity to get back on track.
We caught up with the No11 as he attended a Moore Family Foundation skills session…
A disappointing result on Sunday, but did the way we ended the game give you hope for how we can push on over the last five games of the season?
SD: “Going two goals down was always going to be difficult at City, but I think we kept going and had a couple of chances in the end.
“They are a really good team and in the first half we weren’t good enough, which is what killed us. They were sloppy goals, but we’ll take heart from the second half. We have to play like that for the remaining five games – if we do we’ll be fine.”
Speaking to the manager afterwards, he said the focus would be on keeping as many as clean sheets as possible, to give us the best possible chance of winning. Is that what we’ve got to get back to?
SD: “I think so. We haven’t been as free-flowing in terms of goals as we were earlier in the season. Missing Sakho is a bit of a blow, we’ve had Enner out for a couple of weeks too, so it’s been difficult for us.
“The goals we conceded on Sunday, one was a fluke and the other was a mistake, so on the whole we defended really well.
“We’ll go to QPR now – it’s a difficult game as they’re playing for points massively, but if we can go there and score an early goal it’ll put pressure on them.”
You mention early goals there, that’s what we did last time against QPR. It was your corner that led to Nedum Onouha’s own goal, so how key is making that better start?
SD: “That was probably one of the best games we’ve played at home, QPR. I know they were in a bit of disarray then, but we played ever-so-well, got a goal early and that settled us down to play some really good stuff on the day. We should have beaten them more comfortably.
“It’s a totally different game, this one. They’ve got a bit of confidence now having had a couple of good results. They were unlucky against Chelsea so it’s going to be difficult for us, but I’m confident we can win it.”
What’s it like at this time of year when you come up against a team like that with so much at stake for them?
SD: “It could work both ways because if we score early there’s pressure on them because they’re playing at home and the crowd could get on their backs. It depends on how their players handle it.
“We don’t want to concede first because that’s what would give them confidence. I think that’s what Chelsea did – they got the goal late on, but that deflated them and we’ve got to be positive to start getting some goals on the scoresheet.”
The targets may have changed for us slightly in recent weeks, but is it still a case of 50 points and ensuring it’s the best season since we’ve been back in the Premier League?
SD: “Yes, it’s been disappointing of late, but on reflection over the season, on performances we should be at least in the top eight. The target is to finish as high as we can, because we don’t want the season to peter out.
“If it does everyone remembers not finishing well. We want this season to be remembered for being a good one, finishing as strongly as we started it. Squad-wise, performance and how we’ve played has been a massive improvement on last season.
“We had our problems with injuries and suspensions last year, but this time we’ve been luckier on that front. The strength in depth has been better, the manager bought well, and now we need a result as quickly as we can to give the players confidence to finish well.”
We’re here at a community event with lots of youngsters showing off their skills. It’a always good to give something back isn’t it?
SD: “Yes, it’s a good turnout today. There are a few different age groups out there and it’s nice for the players to get out and give a bit of support back. It’s been enjoyable.”
How important is it, as always, for you as inspirational figures for these young people to look up to?
SD: “A lot of these are West Ham fans, so some of them could be seeing their favourite players today, so it’s nice to come out, show you face, have a little chat and put a smile on their faces. It always helps.