Pardew out to build on impressive return
Few predicted West Ham United would enjoy such a successful return to the Premiership last season but, together with Wigan Athletic, they proved that belief and attacking intent can reap rewards.
The once much-maligned Alan Pardew is now a manager who has earned the respect not only of the wider media, but the supporters at Upton Park.
Despite the ninth place finish of 2005/06, Hammers fans should be cautious about heralding a new era which appears to have breathed new life into their status as a Premiership club.
West Ham would not be the first club to find the 'difficult second season' too much and drop back into the Football League. And with precious new faces who could categorically be classed as an improvement on the status quo hopes of serious contention for back-to-back European campaigns may prove to be no more than that.
Pardew has added six new faces. Carlton Cole swaps west London for east in moving from Chelsea, but the striker has failed to impress in Premiership loan spells at both Charlton and Aston Villa in the past, scoring just seven goals in two seasons. Once considered to be one of England's most promising young strikers when scoring on his first Chelsea start over four years ago, Cole's career has failed to take off and this season will be make or break.
Lee Bowyer returns to the club he supported as a boy from Newcastle and will look to make more of an impact after injury hampered his previous spell as the Hammers went down in 2003. The midfielder's best days, when he helped Leeds reach the semi-finals of the Champions League, are now a thing of the past. And his subsequent troubles, none more so than the on-pitch altercation with Kieron Dyer, at St James' Park do little to suggest he has mended his troublesome ways.
Also joining is United States defender Jonathan Spector who was deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester United following an unspectacular loan season at Charlton - where he made just 13 Premiership starts. The right-sided defender will struggle to start many more matches at West Ham, especially with the signing of Ghana international John Pantsil.
Pantsil turned down French clubs Marseille and Rennes plus Belgian champions Anderlecht to move to the Premiership. He was invited to join West Ham's pre-season tour of Sweden after catching the eye of Pardew during the World Cup.
The fifth new face is a third right-back, Tyrone Mears from Preston North End. While Mears may be the most expensive of the fresh faces it should be Pantsil who starts the season as first choice. And George McCartney, a £1million capture from Sunderland, will surely act as no more than back-up.
Goalkeeper Robert Green seems certain to follow, meaning the Hammers will have added five defensive players for 2006/07.
It means that the Hammers will look mainly to the players who have served the club so well over the past couple of years if they are not only to impress in the Premiership but also in their first European adventure since bowing out of the UEFA Cup to Steaua Bucharest in the second round almost seven years ago.
West Ham qualified for the UEFA Cup after reaching the final of the FA Cup, and in that one match their season was encapsulated. Despite being seen as the underdogs against Liverpool in Cardiff, they produced the better football throughout and deserved to come out winners. And but for Steven Gerrard's injury time leveller they would have done just that. West Ham were exciting, attacking and scored goals - but they just didn't have enough to move onto the next level.
Hammers fans will look to Anton Ferdinand to provide the defensive stability in front of goalkeeper Roy Carroll. The 21-year-old centre-back, who would have been on England's standby list for the World Cup finals but for a summer hernia operation, grew in stature last season and enjoys cult status among the Hammers faithful. He has shown great ability on the ball, strength, aerial prowess and a penchant for goals which has attracted interest from other Premiership clubs.
If Ferdinand - who could miss the start of the season with a hamstring injury - is the defensive lynchpin, then Nigel Reo-Coker is the driving force in midfield. Picked up during the demise of Wimbledon in January 2004, Reo-Coker is West Ham's youngest ever captain and, just like Ferdinand, was forced out of the World Cup standby squad through injury and is tipped to eventually move onto one of the Premiership bigger clubs.
One of the reasons the club enjoyed such a lofty finish and a good FA Cup challenge was the number of chances the team could create. Reo-Coker and Israeli Yossi Benayoun run the midfield for West Ham and they again will be central to their hopes.
Striker Marlon Harewood was one of the surprise packages of 2005/06. His final tally of 14 Premiership goals placed him behind only Darren Bent and Wayne Rooney of the English strikers.
West Ham may have had to rely on Harewood's goals in the first half of last season, but this time they will have Dean Ashton, called into Steve McClaren's first England squad, fully bedded into the club. The £7.25million January signing had niggling injury problems after switching from Norwich City but showed enough to suggest the outlay was justified. And after summer transfer rumours linking him with a switch to Newcastle, Pardew will be glad when the transfer window closes.
Pardew must stick to the attacking football this season. He came in for much stick when West Ham were in the Championship for playing a more rugged style, and it was the switch to a free-flowing approach after promotion which brought so much success.
But with the squad barely strengthened and the demands of UEFA Cup football - especially if they make it into the energy sapping group stage - the Hammers may find themselves adopting a more conservative approach to get through the fixture programme. Even the Champions League clubs with the bigger squads find the extra workload difficult and as such it would be a great achievement if they matched their ninth place finish of 2005/06.