Pardew goes back to scene of bitter exit with remodelled Hammers

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The Independent Football

Alan Pardew got a positive reaction when, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, he personally introduced himself to each and every journalist at his press conference yesterday. The reception he will get when he turns up at Reading at midday today, however, will be rather more mixed.

The West Ham United manager left the Berkshire club last September after five years, in what turned out to be a fairly bitter and acrimonious fight over his employment. Tempted by the newly vacant position at West Ham, he resigned but was then forced by the Reading chairman, John Madejski, to serve out several weeks' "gardening leave" before taking the reins at Upton Park.

As a player, Pardew was not enough of a star to arouse intense feeling when he moved clubs. "People were surprised I got a club as good as Barnet when I left Charlton," he joked. "Later, when I went back to Crystal Palace and Charlton I got a good reception, so this will be something new."

However, his achievements as a manager in turning Reading into Premiership aspirants made him more of a prized asset and it is safe to say he is in the Sven Goran Eriksson camp when it comes to furthering himself. As he said yesterday: "When the opportunity arises to pursue your career it might say something about you if you don't."

Pardew is unapologetic about leaving but will be careful around whom he says that today. He realises he made enemies with the manner of his departure. As he said: "I'll be standing on the edge of the [technical area] as usual. Hopefully that won't cause any animosity but I'm visible and that may be a problem, and if the police say I should move back then maybe I will."

By the same token, the ability that made the Hammers desire him was what turned Reading into a force in the First Division and he knows some people will welcome him back for that.

"Other than the boardroom, who obviously have issues with me, all the other staff there have been as normal. They're mostly people I employed," he said. "It would be harsh for any Reading fan to say I hadn't made a major contribution to the club. When I joined, there was danger of relegation to the Third Division because they were second from bottom. I had to turn around a losing mentality, a bit similar to what I found here, and I'm very proud of what I achieved there."

At stake for the East Londoners today is the chance, with Sunderland not playing a League game because of their FA Cup semi-final, to go third in the table and an opportunity for Pardew to show his erstwhile supporters what he has done with a completely remodelled West Ham team.

He will also be keen to prove that he is not fashioning a side that is beginning to choke at the prospect of making the play-offs. The Hammers' last two away games were defeats at Sunderland and Millwall - the latter a 4-1 thrashing which left a deep scar - and with seven matches remaining he knows now is not the time to go belly up.

Yet the club's difficulties on the pitch this season have been due not only to the managerial upheaval that initially saw Trevor Brooking, as caretaker, replace Glenn Roeder, but also a hangover from West Ham's relegation last May. "There are scars from relegation," he said. "I never suffered it as a player and haven't as a manager. But I've inherited a relegated side. That causes, for players and fans alike, a negative outlook. Trying to change that has been my biggest task.

"My six months here have certainly had some ups and downs, with more downs than I would have liked. Everything that Trevor said to me in terms of the problems has come to light. He painted a true picture. It's been difficult sorting out some of those issues."

One of those issues has been the squad. Stability was his watchword at Reading, who themselves stand only three points behind West Ham, while life has been anything but steady in the Hammers' dressing-room. Five players in the team that beat Gillingham last weekend were brought in by Pardew with two more used from the bench.

He also sold David James and Jermain Defoe, both England internationals, weakening his hand. But Pardew has stood up to the challenge, in the way that he likes to stand up when he addresses the media. Come midday, he will have to face up to a few more inquisitors - about 20,000 - and one thing is for sure: they all know his name.