Tomkins ready to be a leader on the pitch

WEST HAM defender James Tomkins is having to grow up fast at Upton Park, writes DAVE EVANS. It is just 18 months since he made his first tentative steps into the Hammers first team and since then he has hardly looked back. Last season he made the centre-b

WEST HAM defender James Tomkins is having to grow up fast at Upton Park, writes DAVE EVANS.

It is just 18 months since he made his first tentative steps into the Hammers first team and since then he has hardly looked back.

Last season he made the centre-back berth his own alongside Matty Upson, and this time round that position was further strengthened with the sale of his main rival - James Collins - to Aston Villa.

Now, with Upson on the treatment table, the 20-year-old Basildon boy is stepping up as the leader of the defence.

"I think I've grown up a lot more over the last few games," admitted the England under-21 international.

"I've learnt a lot trying to take responsibility, even though I'm not as experienced as players I've been alongside funnily enough."

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Tomkins faced a real test at Manchester City on Monday and though it certainly didn't go to plan for both himself and new defensive partner Manuel Da Costa, they both battled valiantly until the bitter end.

"It was not a good night for us, but there were a few positives," he said. "In the second half we came out and gave it a go, but it just wasn't our night."

It was not surprising. West Ham's inexperienced defence came up against former Hammers Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy - formidable opponents for the best of defences.

"You have to take into consideration their pace and ability on the ball," said Tomkins, when asked how best to deal with the two strikers.

"We tried not to give them too much respect, but they are clever players, world-class players, and as a team we learnt a good lesson today."

Tomkins has been tutored by the best in his short time in the West Ham first team, and now he is ready to move up to the next level.

"I've learnt a lot from Matty Upson," he admitted. "He does a great job leading the line and I've tried to feed off that.

"But I have needed to grow up quickly and be a leader at the back. That is the part of the game that comes with experience, but I'm having to learn it quickly."

Another aspect of his game that he is trying to improve is his efforts in the opposing box. The defender, who has just one career goal to his name for the Hammers, has had four or five golden chances at set-pieces so far this season, but has failed to finish any of them.

It is a record he is looking to improve: "I've worked hard at trying to attack crosses, and hopefully one day soon I can get the ball in the back of the net," he said.

Tomkins was also angry with referee Chris Foy following the awarding of the free-kick that led to City's second goal on Monday night.

"To let in such an early goal was a bit of a killer blow, but we showed good character in getting back level," said the defender.

"The goal just before half-time knocked us back again. The referee is shaking his head, saying it is not a free-kick, but then obviously he changes his mind.

"I don't know how you can change your mind so quickly, but I think when you are losing a few games, the luck doesn't seem to go your way."

Monday's defeat made it six league games without a win for the Hammers, but Tomkins insists that there is no panic among the players.

"I don't think we are worried," he said. "We have had a few tough games, Tottenham, Liverpool, Man City are all going to be up there this year, you can see that already.

"I think all the lads are looking at the next game as a massive one. It is important that the fans get behind us early on and hopefully we can give them a result.

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