Old pals act will have to wait - Mullins

RICK WAGHORN For West Ham midfielder Hayden Mullins, tomorrow's FA Cup trip to Carrow Road has one big missing ingredient - a chance to bump into his long-time pal Leon McKenzie.


For West Ham midfielder Hayden Mullins, tomorrow's FA Cup trip to Carrow Road has one big missing ingredient - a chance to bump into his long-time pal Leon McKenzie.

The pair grew up together in the Crystal Palace youth set-up and remain firm friends. The two will, of course, meet this weekend, but it is clear that Mullins would - like every Canary fan - have wished for the meeting to be on the pitch, not in the players' lounge afterwards.

“I'd have loved to have been playing against Leon on Saturday and to have got a bit of the old banter going again,” said Mullins, ahead of tomorrow's third round clash against the Premiership new boys.

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“Leon and I were in the Palace youth team together and we're still very good friends,” said the 26-year-old, after a recurrence of McKenzie's ankle injury put their reunion plans on hold.

It is just the latest blow in a difficult season for the popular Canary striker, a player granted more than his fair share of trials and tribulations of late - as his pal Mullins is well aware.

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“We still speak quite regularly - in fact we spoke a couple of days ago and find out what's going on in each other's lives,” he said.

“He's had a bit of a break-up, but he's over that now and he can now concentrate on his football. Obviously, he's been a bit unlucky with the injuries, but I'm sure he'll be back soon enough, back scoring goals.”

A bright and bubbly McKenzie, says Mullins, is worth his weight in gold.

“He's such a good lad to have around the dressing room -such a great character to have about the place and it's no surprise to me that he's done so well at Norwich.”

What has surprised many is how well West Ham have done back in the Premiership - what didn't surprise anyone were events at Upton Park last Monday when Chelsea went from the West End to the East and duly returned home with the points.

“They're just brilliant,” said Mullins simply, left to hold the fort in central midfield alongside Hammers' skipper Nigel Reo-Coker as the Blue tide engulfed them. The runaway Premiership leaders were clearly working to the same script as when they visited Carrow Road last season - only this time it was substitute Hernan Crespo making all the difference, not Eidur Gudjohnsen.

“They showed again why they are one of the best teams in Europe, not just in the Premiership,” said Mullins, with both games ending in 3-1 defeats for the overwhelmed home sides.

“We did well to get ourselves back into the game at 1-1, but then they just stepped up another gear,” said Mullins, whose pal McKenzie had the temerity to level in the corresponding fixture at Carrow Road last season.

“They changed their shape, brought Crespo on and he could have had a hat-trick within 10, 20 minutes. They've just got world-class players and a world-class manager who knows what to do when they're under pressure. But we still feel we can take a lot of positives from the game.

“And we know that there are teams in this league that we're not expecting to take points off. To do that is a massive ask. We know the kind of mini-league that we're in. We know what teams we need to be taking points off if we want to stay up.”

As for tomorrow's break from the Premiership grind, it is a case of “Take two!” after last season's third round clash at Upton Park.

“That was the boys' reaction when the draw was made. 'Oh no, not again!' after we played Norwich in the same round last season,” said Mullins, with familiarity breeding definite respect.

“We know all about Norwich. We know they're a good team and I'm sure the manager will be looking to put out a strong side. And, yes, we know all about Dean Ashton.”

For West Ham, says Mullins, tomorrow is all about returning to winning ways after five tough Premiership clashes with just a single point to show for their festive efforts.

“We're still there in 10th, but it would be nice to get those defeats out of the system and start to get some more points on the board.”

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