Harewood happy to remain the Hammers' hidden hero

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The Independent Football

Believe it or not, there are still such things as under-exposed Premiership footballers. West Ham United's Marlon Harewood, for instance, has enjoyed that job title for almost a year, but until last Friday had insisted on keeping himself to himself, surfacing only for the obligatory television clip after scoring a goal or two. A "flash interview" they call it - which refers not to the character of the player concerned, but the length of time allocated.

So there he was after Wednesday night's coverage of the 2-1 FA Cup victory over Bolton, having scored the winning goal that earned the deliriously happy Hammers a quarter-final at Manchester City in double-quick time tomorrow. A double-quick conversation too, which suited him perfectly; his opening gambit for the group of reporters shivering at West Ham's training ground two days later was: "I don't like doing these."

The reluctance, it transpired, was out of a certain unexpected shyness, rather than the sort of chip-on-the-shoulder arrogance that might wrongly have been deduced from camera close-ups of his frowning in vexation with referees, opponents or himself. "Just enjoying it" and "stay in the Premiership" were his two most common phrases. Only when the question of Dean Ashton's arrival from Norwich in January as a £7 million threat to the existing strikers arose, was a small spark lit.

Were you worried about your place in the team, Marlon? "I didn't think about my place, but I thought about Dean's place. Me and Teddy [Sheringham] and Bobby [Zamora] were doing fantastic, so I felt sorry for him, not because of the price-tag or anything but because he was gonna struggle to get in the side!"

It was a little flicker of the self-belief without which no striker would have managed a goal every two games in his first full season at Premiership level. Sure enough, Harewood and Ashton have become Alan Pardew's chosen pairing and if either looked a little uncertain against Bolton it was the newcomer. Harewood created the first goal with a fine low cross from a position he often takes up down the right, and nipped in ahead of his marker for a poacher's second in classic West Ham fashion at the near post during extra-time.

"I'm pleased with any goal in any game and it was good to get a goal before penalties," he said. "I'm just enjoying it and the lads are enjoying it. If you don't enjoy being in the Premiership it isn't worth playing. We're just going out and winning as many games as possible to stay in the Premiership. We've got young talent and they're all bonding."

As a Londoner, the move to West Ham two years ago was a return closer to home, a Nottingham Forest scout having lured him away in his early teens. In half a dozen years the team mostly struggled, barring one season, ending in the play-offs, when Harewood and David Johnson clocked up 50 goals.

He also came across a revered senior pro known as either "Skip" or "Psycho", who will be jumping around the technical area as Manchester City's manager tomorrow: "Stuart Pearce was a legend at Forest. I was mostly in the reserve and youth teams, but I know him really well and it'll be good to see him. He'll probably have tabs on me, watching me and telling me what to do. He kept himself to himself most of the time, though if anyone did anything to him, he'd let them know it. But I don't think anyone did much, because they'd be too scared. It doesn't surprise me that he's being talked about as England manager because after it looked like City weren't going to make him manager, he's been doing really well and I'm really happy for him."

It was in Nottingham that Harewood encountered another acquaintance who made an equally vivid impression, under vastly different circumstances. Josh was an 11-year-old with leukaemia whom he met while giving out presents at a local hospital and with whom he has kept up while aiming now to raise £10,000 through a charity auction. Shirts exchanged with leading Premiership players will form the bulk of the items, though one in particular may not come under the hammer, remaining instead with the Hammer: "I got Thierry Henry's, but I must admit I've kept that for myself!"