Tomkins takes his chance with stylish show

TRAILING 2-0 after just 11 minutes and then losing one of your experienced centre halves just five minutes later could easily have been the signal for an absolute disaster at the Reebok on Saturday, writes DAVE EVANS. But step forward 19-year-old James To

TRAILING 2-0 after just 11 minutes and then losing one of your experienced centre halves just five minutes later could easily have been the signal for an absolute disaster at the Reebok on Saturday, writes DAVE EVANS.

But step forward 19-year-old James Tomkins from the bench and in his first Premier League appearance of the season, he showed that West Ham may have the strength in depth that manager Gianfranco Zola is looking for in his squad.

Not only did the youngster help keep out Bolton for the rest of the match, he also showed he is a threat in the other box too with some impressive headers.

"Obviously it was quite a surprise when James went down, but you have to knock out your nerves and take it as it comes," said Tomkins, after Saturday's disappointing 2-1 defeat.


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"We were two down so it was fairly hard circumstances in that way, but you have to just play the game as well as you can."

It was certainly tough out there against the likes of Kevin Davies. Even the normally cool Matty Upson lost his temper with the belligerent centre forward.

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"They are very physical," said Tomkins with some understatement. "Kevin Davies has bags of experience and I think everyone learned a lot today playing against him. I didn't do too badly, considering I came on when we were 2-0 down."

He didn't and he sees two reasons for his improvement on the field this campaign.

"This season I've been out on loan at Derby and obviously I found out a lot about myself there too," he confirmed.

"Physically I think I've come up much further than I did last year, I feel like I'm ready and when I get the chance, like I did today, I've got to take it.

"Obviously Zola has played a big part too and I'm just trying to improve each time really. He hasn't put any sort of pressure on me. He just tells me to go out and play the way you can, so he doesn't give you any nerves, he just gives you more confidence."

Tomkins made eight appearances for the Rams in November and December, before returning to play in the FA Cup clashes with Barnsley and Hartlepool, and his experience at Pride Park has obviously had an effect on him.

"The Derby loan certainly helped me," he said. "The Championship is a very deman-ding league, very physical. I think I learned a lot and I've been working very hard physically in the gym, because I know it is an area of my game I need to improve.

"I'm still young and I'm sure my strength will come, but it is something I wanted to improve as early as possible."

Saturday was just his ninth appearance in claret and blue, but it was an assured performance at the back, while at the other end he caused Bolton plenty of problems.

"I could have done better with a few headers, but as long as I'm getting in the box and attacking them, that's good," he explained.

"It's another area of my game that I've tried to improve and I just need to take my chances if I get them."

When Collins limped off after just 17 minutes, Zola could easily have gone with the more experienced Radoslav Kovac to replace him, an international who has played plenty of games at centre half as well as his preferred defensive midfield role.

The fact that it was the 19-year-old who was given the chance shows just how much confidence the manager has in Tomkins.

And with Collins joining Danny Gabbidon on the treatment table, the Basildon-born youngster may well get a prolonged run in the first team.

It is something that Tomkins relishes: "Obviously 'Ginge' has been doing very well when he has been playing, but maybe there is going to be a chance for me," said the youngster.

"You obviously feel for the lad and hope he's not going to be out for too long because he's been doing really well, but if I get my chance, then I've got to take it.

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