May 21 2013 Latest news:
Dave Evans, West Ham Correspondent
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
West Ham player of the year Mark Noble remembers Cardiff City boss Malky Mackay during his time at Upton Park and why he will be no pushover in the play-off semi-final
He was part of the squad that suffered play-off heartbreak against Crystal Palace in 2004 and then played as a substitute when West Ham beat Preston North End 1-0 to secure a Premier League place a year later.
But this time Mark Noble is hoping to be one of the leading lights as he and the Hammers prepare for a third play-off bid in eight years.
Now 24 and West Ham’s longest-serving player, Noble remembers those first two games with pride and pleasure.
“I was part of the squad for the Crystal Palace game, but I was only about 17 or something,” said the Canning Town-born West Ham fan.
“I remember getting a suit for the occasion, because I had never had a suit before!”
A year later and Alan Pardew’s team were once more at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to take on Preston in the play-off final and this time, Noble, who has just turned 18, got his chance.
“I just remember it was unbelievable for me because I was still a young kid,” he said.
“I remember sitting on the bench and Pards (Alan Pardew) saying, ‘get ready, you are going to come on’.”
Noble was brought on in the 82nd minute for Shaun Newton, but with a lengthy injury lay-off when goalkeeper Jimmy Walker was flattened, he was on for a good 15 minutes as the Hammers held on to a lead given to them by Bobby Zamora.
“It was an unbelievable occasion to get out there to help see a game out and win it and the feeling afterwards was amazing.
“I’ve only ever had that feeling a couple of times in my career and hopefully I will get it again,” he said.
One player who was in the same squad as Noble that year, but who missed out on a play-off place was current Cardiff City boss Malky Mackay.
It was Mackay’s injury back in March that had heralded the arrival of Elliott Ward in the starting line-up and with it the renaissance in West Ham’s fortunes that would eventually lead them to sneak into sixth place.
“Strangely enough I played with Malky here quite a few times,” revealed Noble.
“He is a top bloke and you could always tell he was going to go on to management because he was always giving me rollickings in games and in training,” he joked.
West Ham’s two play-off finals were in Cardiff, the same city where West Ham will look to carve out a first-leg lead this week, but the spoils for the winner of the semi-final this time will be a trip to Wembley Stadium.
“The play-off final was great occasion for me even though it was at Cardiff rather than Wembley,” he said.
“But to go and play at Wembley would be amazing and I know that we will fill our allocation of tickets 100 per cent.
“But I am not thinking about that at all,” he insisted.
“We have got to overcome Cardiff City and it would be total disrespect to be talking about Wembley already because they are a top team and we need to beat them first.”