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West Ham’s ‘Ginger Pele’ is so important when the pressure is on

PUBLISHED: 10:27 12 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:27 12 April 2017

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: West Ham United's James Collins during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea City at London Stadium

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: West Ham United's James Collins during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea City at London Stadium

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‘I could be here until I’m 75! says Collins

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: West Ham United's James Collins clears the ball to safety during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea CitySTRATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: West Ham United's James Collins clears the ball to safety during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea City

The final whistle blew and West Ham defender James Collins fell to his knees and beat the ground with his fists.

It was a similar reaction to the one the fans had and shows just how much this club means to the Wales international.

“It was just sheer relief,” said the 33-year-old after the vital 1-0 win against Swansea City.

“I have been thinking about it all week and I knew how big this game was and obviously coming back into the team I wanted to do well and get a clean sheet.”

Swansea City's Jordan Ayew (left) and West Ham United's James Collins battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the London Stadium.Swansea City's Jordan Ayew (left) and West Ham United's James Collins battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the London Stadium.

He certainly did that with a swashbuckling performance where his trademark blocking and getting in where it hurts was to the fore, especially as the Swans put on some late pressure.

It was the first clean sheet since the win over Crystal Palace in mid-January and the sense of relief was palpable.

“It was a massive win, a huge win,” he said. “It didn’t matter how we did it, it was all about getting the three points and a clean sheet and that is what we have done.

“A clean sheet should be the benchmark for us in any game. We have to keep clean sheets and with the boys we have going forward we should score goals, so to get both is massive.

“We should have made it more comfortable in the last 15 minutes than we did, but we stuck in there and got what we deserved.”

The three points will no doubt ease the pressure on manager Slaven Bilic, but for the veteran defender he could not understand the speculation in the first place.

“It is a weird one because I don’t see in football why the managers gets so much stick when the players need to take some responsibility,” added Collins.

“A lot of our boys have played in the Premier League for a long time now and they needed to step up to the plate and stand up for the gaffer.

“It is easy to hide behind the manager. I have been at clubs where the manager has taken a lot of stick when it is the players who have not performed.

“Everyone loves the gaffer and his staff and we were disappointed when he was getting all the stick when it was us not performing.

“You can’t not like Slaven. He is a legend of this football club and he has been getting a lot of stick. I am personally delighted we have got the win for him, because it was getting to him, you could see it in his face.”

The three points took the team to 36 points and gives them an eight-point cushion over the dreaded drop zone, so does Collins think that is enough to ensure survival?

He contemplates the question. “West Ham went down once on 43 points so you never know,” he said. “I think we will go on a roll now, it was just a case of getting the monkey off our back and now we have done it.”

It makes Saturday’s game against Sunderland a much more straight-forward proposition, but Collins, who still has another year on his contract at West Ham, is looking for the team to push on.

“There is a massive pressure off us,” he said. “Obviously we knew they were two big games, but we have got the win which was vital.

“Sunderland is still a massive game next week and I know it sounds crazy, but if we win we can almost get to 10th place or even higher.”

With Collins back in the team and showing the true spirit of the squad, you wouldn’t bet against them doing just that.

“I’ve got another year on my contract and I could be here until I’m 75!” he said. And why not?

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