Fletcher commitment rewarded with Cup spot
Carl Fletcher's commitment to West Ham is set to be rewarded with the biggest day of his career - a dream appearance in the FA Cup final and the chance to get one over on England star Steven Gerrard.
Fletcher slipped down the pecking order at Upton Park as Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker cemented the central midfield positions and there were times when the Welsh international was forced to consider his future at the club.
But the 26-year-old bought into Alan Pardew's 'all for one, one for all' philosophy and when his chance finally came Fletcher snatched it with both hands.
Mullins' suspension opened the door and a dominant performance against Tottenham on Sunday, capped by his first Barclays Premiership goal, has left him in pole position to start at the Millennium Stadium.
'It's been a frustrating year for me but you have to take your opportunity when it comes along,' said Fletcher.
'When you are a footballer you want to play every game you can. This is the first season I have had to take a back seat and a lot of things go through your head.
'But the good thing about the squad, and one of the reasons we have done so well, is everyone has pushed in the right direction, whether they are in the team or not.
'You have got to keep your head down and work hard and take your opportunity when it comes along.'
Before Mullins' suspension Fletcher's best hope would have realistically been a place on the bench - but now he is set to lock horns once again with Gerrard, the heartbeat of Liverpool's midfield and a vital cog in England's World Cup side.
'You'd travel round the world to play in the FA Cup final. My first football memories are of the Coventry-Spurs FA Cup final in 1987. That got me hooked and this is a fantastic opportunity for me,' said Fletcher.
'Gerrard is one of the best midfielders in the world. I played against him for Wales against England. They had David Beckham and Frank Lampard as well. That was a pretty tough day and it took me a couple of days to recover.
'If you lose concentration for a couple of seconds against players of that quality they are unlocking the door for the strikers or scoring themselves.
'Every player in the Liverpool side is a quality player. You have got to be on your toes for the full 90 minutes to keep them at bay.'
Most of the country - particularly those fans who could not get tickets for the Millennium Stadium - would prefer the final to have been played at Wembley.
But Fletcher is one of three Welsh internationals in the West Ham squad and with this being the club's third trip to the Millennium Stadium in as many years, Cardiff is something of a home from home for the Hammers.
'Cardiff is special. It's an amazing stadium with a great atmosphere. It's an honour to be there and it's a great day for West Ham,' said Fletcher.
'It doesn't matter where it's played. You could play on a field down the road - this is the FA Cup final.
'It's every footballer's dream to play in the FA Cup final and I am no different.'