Hammers skipper ready for battle
West Ham United midfielder Kevin Nolan knows exactly what it takes to lead a team out of the Championship at the first time of asking. So when Sam Allardyce took on the task of guiding relegated West Ham back to the big time, his first move was to bring in the man who has been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Nolan will now attempt to reprise his role of two seasons ago, when he was captain of a similarly beleaguered Newcastle side who were tipped to keep plummeting but instead ended up roaring to the title. The midfielder hit 12 Premier League goals last season, so his £4million switch back to the Championship came as a huge surprise. A lucrative five-year contract, which will run out when he is 34, has no doubt softened the blow of dropping down a division. But the new Hammers captain is in no mood to hang around in the second tier and has already spelt out to his team-mates what to expect when the season kicks off with a televised Sunday afternoon visit from Cardiff. "You've got to find out who is going to be ready for the fight, because it's going to be a fight," he admitted. "It's going to be backs against the wall at times with people lumping balls into our box. "Everybody has got to raise their game because we are West Ham. We've got to be ready for that. "We've got to make sure we are physically and mentally strong so that when it comes to Cardiff on August 7 we are ready and we can hit the ground running." West Ham were a shambles last season as they finished rock-bottom of the Premier League under Avram Grant, winning just seven matches all term and, when it really mattered, picking up just one point from their last eight games. A quick glance at League One, where Charlton, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday currently reside, illustrates how quickly the rot can set in after relegation from the big time. But Nolan insists he has seen no evidence of a losing mentality amongst his new Upton Park team-mates. "Sometimes when you join a club, especially a relegated side, there's a bit of a split in the camp and something has gone wrong," he added. "But here the lads are fantastic and there is a great team spirit. "Hopefully now we can add to that. We can do a few more things during the season and we can get back to where we belong - the Premier League - because that's the goal." The Upton Park fans are well aware of Nolan's goalscoring prowess - he has found the net against them four times for Bolton and Newcastle. But they will gladly put up with that irritating 'Chicken Tonight' celebration now the protagonist is wearing a claret and blue shirt. Nolan has already drawn comparisons with another West Ham captain, the legendary Billy Bonds, who ran the Hammers midfield throughout the 1970s and 80s. Allardyce, who made Nolan his skipper at Bolton five years ago, once again plans to build his side around the 29-year-old. "He's a great leader on and off the field. It's very important to get a team spirit and unity," said Allardyce. "He could be (like Bonds) but I don't want to put too much pressure on him. "He is in the prime of his career. He has chosen to pay me a really good honour, not just that he wants to play for West Ham but that he wants to play for me again. Hopefully we will both benefit from that."
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