West Ham manager Alan Pardew has set his sights on European qualification following his team’s 3-2 Barclays Premiership win at Arsenal.
The Hammers have surprised everyone, themselves included, by making such a strong return to the top flight this season – and last night’s Highbury success pushed them up to ninth place.
Pardew is making no bold claims that Hammers fans will definitely be needing their passports next season but insists it is nevertheless a legitimate aim.
He said: “I didn’t think I would hear myself saying this, but it is a realistic opportunity for us and we have to try to grasp it.
“You have to look at the power of the squad and how they have coped with the Premiership. If we were winning games, as perhaps we did last night, by hanging on and trying to steal things on the break then I would say Europe was unrealistic.
“But we haven’t done that. In 75% of our games we have controlled possession and had the lion’s share of it – and we have won games on top of that.
“So the signs are there that we can do it. I wouldn’t sell the players a goal I didn’t think was achievable for them. This is a big long-shot but something we can have a go for.”
Defender Anton Ferdinand is also convinced a UEFA Cup place can be achieved.
He said: “A lot of people thought we wouldn’t be ready for the Premiership. But we were, so why not?
“Getting into Europe would make it a great season. At the moment it is a good season.”
Ferdinand further enhanced his growing reputation with an assured display at Highbury and could yet force his way into the England party for the World Cup.
His fortunes contrasted markedly with experienced England defender Sol Campbell, who was substituted at half-time by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger last night and immediately left the ground.
The Frenchman explained afterwards that the former Spurs man was struggling badly for confidence – but Ferdinand insists he still looks up to the 31-year-old.
He said: “Sol has been one of the best defenders in the world ever since he came on the scene. No one can take that away from him.
“I used to look at him as a youngster and watch the way he defended. When he is at his best there are not many people who can play like him.”
Campbell was at fault for Nigel Reo-Coker’s opener, and in-form striker Bobby Zamora also got the better of him for the second.
But Pardew is convinced it was nothing more than one bad night at the office for Campbell.
“Any professional player has a game where it doesn’t go well,” he said.
“On Sol’s part he would probably be the first to say he had a really tricky first half. Our guys are in good form, so there was a bit of that in there – but as an ex-professional I know you do have those games. Sol is no different to anyone else.”