Sunday, 3 February 2008

Curbs On Sunday

Alan Curbishley was in relaxed mood when he guested on Goals on Sunday this morning. West Ham United are currently sitting comfortably in mid-table, which is obviously in stark contrast to the relegation dogfight and off-field disruptions of last season. Looking back over his time since taking over as manager before Christmas in 2006, Curbishley said: "It's been an eventful year for all sorts of reasons. We went in all guns blazing and beat Man United first game and this time last year we was on 20 points, in the bottom three and we went on a losing streak of about eight games. We just couldn't win a game, we found ourselves rock bottom and it looked as if it was all over with that run in. It was just a fantastic achievement to stay up. Carlos Tevez was one of the players that was instrumental but I think people tend to forget what happened in that run-in. We kept the same side for the first time and there were big performances especially from Carlos but also Greeny (Robert Green), Bobby Zamora gave us big goals, Mark Noble came into the side and gave us a lift."

The relegation scrap came down to the final fixture and a daunting trip to the home of the newly crowned champions. "We went to Old Trafford and knew there was all these scenarios but I thought perhaps it would be sorted out somewhere else," mused Curbishley. "I was hoping that our result wasn't going to be the one that counted. As the news was coming through from Wigan v Sheffield United it became apparent that we had to take something. Funnily enough the first 80 minutes was slow and then the last 10 minutes went quickly and we managed to do it. I came out of Old Trafford thinking 'whatever I do I don't want to do that again and put West Ham through that again'.

The ex-Charlton manager now has big plans to make West Ham bigger, including a new stadium that will allow more punters through the turnstiles. "There's a big difference between managing Charlton and West Ham," stated Curbishley. "It is not so much the pressure but the expectation level, no disrespect to Charlton, is a lot bigger. I didn't realise how big West Ham was until I got inside it. I obviously played there and managed against them but until I actually got to the club I didn't realise how big it was. It's a big club and we feel we can become bigger. There's plans for a new stadium and for us to push on but obviously we've got to lay the foundations for that to happen. As I understand it we can't develop Upton Park. We have 35,000 capacity and we've got 8,000 waiting list for season tickets, we know we can attract more fans and if we move a couple of miles into Canning Town near the Olympic stadium in Stratford then once the infrastructure goes in we can attract 60,000. That's the plan and if we can do that then we might be able to push on and become a bigger club."

When questioned about the lack of activity in the recent transfer window, Curbishley was typically candid. "We spent heavily in the last window because I felt we needed to bring some players in and then we balanced the books roughly over the summer," he said. "The problem we've had is that a lot of the players I brought in have hardly played any games. But the players that have been playing this season have shown that perhaps I have a stronger squad than I thought I had."

Curbishley then turned his thoughts to yesterday's disappointing defeat at Wigan Athletic, where he labelled the JJB playing surface 'embarrassing'. "I don't know whose fault it is but I don't think the Premier League are used to it," he said. "But anybody going there has got to get used to it. It's a big factor if you're trying to play some football. I'm not saying that we were the only football team out there, I'm saying that it was massively difficult to play on. Eventually you end up knocking it long and hoping for a scrap or a set play - and that's what Wigan got in the end. I'd have taken a point while the game was going on because I knew how difficult it was. We couldn't retain the ball and couldn't get going. It didn't happened for us and we went here with great hopes. We got on top in the first half but just couldn't fashion that final ball, and I think you'll find some of my players were resorting to just putting it in there and hoping for a bit of a scrap - and it never happened for us."

Despite his concerns over the state of the pitch Curbishley was also annoyed with his team's defending for the goal, which he described as 'massively disappointing'. "A big part of Wigan's play is set plays and balls into the box, and I think we coped quite well with that," he mused. "But we got undone, which was so frustrating because when we saw it again we've got one of our smallest players on one of their biggest players and one of our biggest players not marking anyone at all."

Whilst West Ham United's fortunes at home are steadily improving, the defeat meant that the Hammers have now gone four games (in all competitions) without a win on the road. With the season now entering its final phase, Curbishley says that his team must improve if they are to have any chance of breaking into the European positions. "Our home form has changed, we're picking wins up - but we've gone a couple of games away from home now where we haven't," he added. "We've had a very consistent run but for us to push into the top six we've obviously got to pick some wins up. We play Birmingham next week and then Fulham. So we've got to get results in the next two games if we're going to have a chance of doing that."

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