Hislop hails 'fantastic' Ferdinand

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The Independent Football

Shaka Hislop claims the form of West Ham's central defensive partnership of Anton Ferdinand and Danny Gabbidon has made his job "very easy".

The Hammers' keeper turns 37 tomorrow and has amassed more than 400 senior appearances in a career spanning 14 years and five clubs, and he has heaped praise on the West Ham youngsters.

Although West Ham's record run of seven consecutive victories came to an end with a goalless draw at Bolton in the FA Cup last Saturday, there could be no argument with the quality of the defending and Hislop admitted he was joining in with the applause of the fans at the final whistle at the Reebok Stadium.

"From my point of view, it's fantastic to be playing behind those two," he said. "They are getting themselves in the right places to win headers, intercept passes and receive the ball, and they are also there to do the not-so-pretty stuff, such as throwing themselves in front of shots and going in where it hurts."

Hislop, in his second spell at Upton Park, has taken over the first-team jersey in the last five games while Roy Carroll recovers from a back injury. While the Trinidad & Tobago international, who could face England in the World Cup this summer, is still performing with his old distinction he admits he has great protection.

"Looking back, Anton and Danny both made a great start to the season and seem to have grown from there," he said. "That shows in the results of late. The fact that we have kept three clean sheets in a row is in no small way down to their contribution.

"They have both shown a lot of maturity for two young defenders and have proved themselves to be the backbone of what is not only a solid defensive unit but also a very good team."

Shaka also credits West Ham's supporters with helping the team to prosper. There were 6,000 visiting fans at the Reebok Stadium in a disappointing crowd of 17,120 on Saturday.

"They were fantastic," he said. "I don't want to take anything away from the Bolton supporters who did turn up, but you know that Upton Park is going to have very few seats for the replay and that our supporters will make it a very special atmosphere on the night.

"They came to the Reebok Stadium in their numbers again and, for large parts of the game, I had to ask myself if we were in Bolton or east London.

"For their sake, I'm glad we didn't lose, because it would have been a long and arduous journey home."

The goalless draw will, in fact, have to satisfy West Ham supporters for the best part of two weeks. The Hammers should have been playing Manchester United this weekend but the Red Devils instead play Wigan in the Carling Cup final.

Yet there could still be a quick follow-up to the next scheduled fixture which is at home to Everton on 4 March. If Bolton, unbeaten in 10 games since New Year's Eve, win their Uefa Cup match against Marseilles at the Stade Velodrome tomorrow, they will visit Upton Park on 6 March for the FA Cup replay.

Should they go out in France after a goalless draw last Wednesday in the home leg, the replay will be delayed until the week of 14 March - a few days after West Ham are due to visit Bolton in the Premiership.

The Marseilles coach, Jean Fernandez, is likely to be absent from the bench for the meeting with Bolton after undergoing surgery to remove gall stones.

Fernandez had initially planned to have the operation next week, allowing him to lead his team tomorrow night. But after suffering a fresh bout of illness last night he was readmitted to hospital. He is expected to be discharged tomorrow.

The Middlesbrough defender Franck Queudrue is adamant that Uefa or FA Cup glory would not compensate for being relegated from the Premiership. The 27-year-old Frenchman returned to action after an 11-game absence with a knee ligament injury in Sunday's 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round victory at Preston North End and is a likely starter in tomorrow night's Uefa Cup meeting with Stuttgart, for which Boro hold a 2-1 first-leg lead.

However, the Teessiders lie 16th in the Premiership table and, although they eased relegation fears with a 3-0 win over Chelsea last time out, Queudrue says that if he had to choose between staying up and winning a cup, the decision would be easy.

"There's no point doing well in the cups if we are going into the Championship next season," he said. "If you had to make a choice, it would be staying in the Premiership first and see what happens in the cups."

Boro gave themselves every chance of progressing for the second successive season when they won 2-1 at the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadium last week, and they know a clean sheet at the Riverside will earn them a tie against either Roma or FC Bruges, with the Italians in the driving seat.

However, Danijel Ljuboja's late free-kick gave the Germans hope and Queudrue acknowledges he and his team-mates can take nothing for granted: "They haven't had a very good season, a bit like us, but like us, this could be the game that saves their season."