Thursday, 27 September 2007

Reflections On Plymouth

Following victories over both Bristol Rovers and Plymouth Argyle, Alan Curbishley is desperately hoping that Saturday's fourth round draw can bring yet more Carling Cup cheer to Upton Park. While some of his Premier League counterparts may not have the competition chalked down as 'Top Priority', it is certainly a tournament that the Hammers' boss is approaching with an air of deadly seriousness. A Premiership side will win the Carling Cup so we've got to give it our best shot," insisted Curbishley after seeing Dean Ashton's venomous 92nd-minute volley eliminate the Pilgrims at Upton Park.

Curbishley continued: "Certainly, we've shown our intentions by putting out strong sides against both Bristol Rovers and against Plymouth. We had five or six players who needed a game but, no matter how much you train, it's still not the same as playing an actual match and it got tough out there. It was always going to be a difficult cup tie - just as Manchester United and Aston Villa have found out against Coventry City and Leicester City - and I was trying to tell everyone beforehand that Plymouth would make it a very awkward match for us. Scott Parker hasn't played for eight weeks and he had to feel his way into the tie but that's three games under his belt now and we need him back. I also wanted to give the likes of Richard Wright, Freddie Ljungberg, Luis Boa Morte, Danny Gabbidon and James Collins a game but, in all fairness, even though I made six changes, it was still a strong side and a strong bench, too. I had no doubts about the team that I picked because I knew it was good enough to win the game but Plymouth came here with other ideas! They made the first-half really difficult for us and they showed that they're a very well organised and settled side. They'll be going home feeling really upset that they lost it in the last minute but that's cup football."

Although there was strong competition for places in most areas of the park, it appears Curbishley had little option but to play Ashton who may otherwise have been rested. "After playing up at Newcastle United on Sunday, I asked Dean Ashton about facing Plymouth and he said that he wanted to play," revealed Curbishley. "Bobby Zamora has had an operation to wash out his knee and it'll take about three or four weeks until he's ready, while Henri Camara was cup-tied and I just couldn't risk Craig Bellamy ahead of the Arsenal game even though he was itching to play. I went with Deano and Carlton Cole again. I think that we all talk too much about playing three games in a week because I reckon that some of that's in the mind and, anyway, if the game had gone to extra-time then we would've just got on with that, too. All along, though, I could see that Deano was getting stronger and stronger as the tie wore on and I was hoping that, if we did get a chance in normal time, it would fall to him, because I knew that there was a good chance that he'd finish it. I was also pleased for our substitute Kyel Reid who came on and supplied the cross for Deano to produce such a great volley. We haven't put any pressure on Dean Ashton and, although we've been criticised in some quarters for the way we've taken our time in using him so far, we just had to get it right. The work that he put in before pre-season has seen him get through the summer and thanks to that effort, he's now being repaid in both games and goals."

Curbishley refused to be drawn on any talk of an international call-up for his in-form striker. "I'm not even thinking about him going off with England. I'm just happy that Dean Ashton's playing for West Ham United and, hopefully, we can now get him and Craig Bellamy playing together, starting against Arsenal at the weekend." Certainly, Saturday is a key date for the Hammers as they discover their Carling Cup fourth round opponents, ahead of that testing derby against the Premier League pace-setters. "We're hoping for a decent draw and if we can also get through the next round, then, who knows what could happen from there?" concluded the West Ham manager before heading off to plot how he can shoot down Arsene Wenger's high-flying Gunners. "I've got a bit of thinking to do about the side to face Arsenal because we were very disappointed with the result at Newcastle. The defending up at St James's Park was poor and I let them know all about that on Sunday and Monday. Arsenal have got a fantastic squad and they've made a great start to the season, too, so it's going to be a 'proper' match. There will be a fantastic atmosphere at Upton Park and I'm sure that everyone is looking forward to it. Arsene Wenger will come and play their game, so let's just wait and see what happens."

One player whose performance may have gone largely unnoticed last night is Richard Wright. The former Arsenal and Ipswich stopper made his home debut last night and was pleased to keep a clean sheet. "It was nice to play at Upton Park," he said. "It's been a long time since the start of the season and I'm glad that it's come around now. I kept a clean sheet and we got a win in the Cup as well. You know it's always going to be difficult when you're playing lower league teams. They came and shut up shop, they put us under a bit of pressure as well. It was a bit of a relief for everyone, once we scored the goal at the end, to make sure we went through. It was a great goal. Reidy came off the bench and did really well and put in a great cross. Deano finished it really well and we're pleased we kept clean sheet as well. Hopefully we can build on that and take that into the Premier League as well." The 28-year-old is looking forward to Saturday's fourth round draw, regardless of who the Hammers are paired against. "At this stage of the competition all the better teams are still in there," he said. "If we want to progress in this tournament it doesn't matter who we play we have to go out with the same attitude and if we have to grind out a result against a lower league team or get a result against a top team then that will hopefully be the case."

Teams in the draw for the fourth round of the Carling Cup: Arsenal; Blackburn Rovers; Blackpool; Bolton Wanderers; Cardiff City; Chelsea; Coventry City; Everton; Leicester City; Liverpool; Luton Town; Manchester City; Portsmouth; Sheffield United; Tottenham Hotspur; West Ham United

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