Alan Pardew may now be enjoying the plaudits as his side look set to establish themselves among England’s elite, but the West Ham manager clearly remembers how things were very different this time last year.
The Hammers head into Monday’s Barclays Premiership clash with Birmingham at Upton Park looking for a seventh straight win which would propel them ever closer to contention for a top-six finish
A minute’s silence is set to be held before kick-off as a mark of respect to former manager Ron Greenwood who died earlier in the week.
With an FA Cup fifth-round tie at Bolton to follow next weekend, 2006 could turn out to be a vintage year for the east-London club.
However, talk of qualifying for Europe would have seemed a distant dream when Pardew was eventually cleared to take charge from Reading in late 2003, his brief then to return the Hammers to the top flight as soon as possible.
Play-off heartbreak was to follow in Cardiff, and when things were not exactly going to plan last season, Pardew was the subject of much criticism, which would eventually fade away as his side recovered to ensure a memorable return to Wales in May 2005.
“I had taken over in late October, but that season was okay, I felt. We had such a great turnaround and were going for the play-offs,” the Hammers boss recalled.
“It was last year, really, which was tricky, because I had had a play-off defeat before and I knew we were going to get a kick like some of the teams who came down last year.
“It was like ‘What are we doing in this division? We should have won the play-off final’.”
“That philosophy gets into the team at some point, it got into our team and we were struggling.”
The Hammers boss admitted: “This time last year was really difficult.
“I was looking at results, the way the top two had got away from us, knowing that we were going to be in the play-offs again, and I was going to have to go through a scenario where I had already lost in two play-offs.
“It was not a time that I was feeling particularly thrilled about.
“It was about getting the job done, and I said after we won the final, that was what it was about.
“There was not much pleasure from that season, it was about just getting promoted,” he admitted.
“A mistake I made was to withdraw myself from the media, in the terms of getting the job done, let’s get promoted.
“I think West Ham fans probably felt they did not know me, and did not have any attachment to me.
“That was probably a mistake from my point and obviously I took a lot of criticism from the media for that as well.”
The West Ham manager recalled a match at Millmoor just after Christmas 2004.
“At Rotherham we were 2-0 down and coming off at the tunnel, our fans made it very clear, their feelings,” he said.
“We had met them the night before at the Northern Supporters Club and had a cup of tea, were all looking forward to the game, if we won and all that.
“We had to dig that out, that game – but if it had gone the other way, it would have been very difficult.”
He added: “Like all fans, if you are 2-0 down at half-time, they let you know, in no uncertain terms. There were a few choice words.”
Now, though, the scenario facing Pardew is totally different as he looks to establish the Hammers as a top-flight club for the foreseeable future.
“I genuinely felt that, after meeting the chairman, I could help this club and that I would be in a strong position if I could do that,” said the Hammers boss.
“As we sit here, having just paid £7million for a striker (Dean Ashton), I think I am now in a decent position.
“I have got a good young side, I am lucky enough to have passionate fans who, if the stadium was for 45,000, they would fill it.”
Pardew added: “We have got a young side, who are getting nice press at the minute for their performances, and rightly so because they have been terrific.
“If I can keep them together and they keep the spirit amongst themselves then we can achieve some things here.”