Anton's On Track

AFTER impressing in recent games at the heart of the Hammers defence, Anton Ferdinand now faces competition for his first-team place from fit-again Malky Mackay and soon to be returning Christian Dailly.

But Alan Pardew has given a boost to the 20-year-old centre-back by insisting that Anton has all the physical and technical attributes to reach the top.

"Anton is a young professional learning his trade," explained Pards. "He's a quick, athletic defender with excellent technique and he's always very comfortable on the ball.

"Anton's done well coming into the side over the last few weeks. He faced a tough task at Sunderland, but showed great maturity and again in the last two games I think he's played very well.

"The defence has changed a lot this season, so it's been difficult for an inexperienced player like Anton to come in and play solidly week in, week out. But he has great potential and there's a long way to go for Anton."

Forever compared with his famous older brother, Rio, Pards does admit that there are similarities in their ability. Like his brother, Anton is a graduate of the Hammers Academy and is building a solid appearance record for the senior side having notched 31 appearances since making his debut at Preston on the opening day of last season.

But the Hammers boss warned that Anton needs to work on his mental approach to the game if he is to develop into a first-team regular.

"Physically and technically Anton is very sound," said Pards, "but Anton is a young lad and he needs to work on his concentration to stay focused for every second during a game and shut out what's going on around him.

"Concentration is so important for a central defender, which is why you often find that defenders mature later in their careers. Anton has fantastic potential and he's certainly come a long way in the last year. He's now reached England Under-21 level and should be looking to push on and secure a regular place in the first-team.

"It won't be easy because we've got some senior players coming back to fitness who will push Anton for a place. But he's reaching the point in his career where he has to be looking to take on those experienced professionals for a place in the senior side."

Whether Anton keeps his place for the Boxing Day fixture against Nottingham Forest remains to be seen. However, Pards is pleased with the way his young defender has risen to the challenge of filling experienced shoes over the last few weeks.

"This has been a big challenge for Anton," he added. "With senior players out he has had to come in and do a very important job. But he hasn't shirked the challenge and I think he'll have gained great experience from this run, which will help him as he looks to consolidate his place in the team."