Defending The Future

FORMER Hammers defender Tony Gale insists Academy graduate Anton Ferdinand is hitting some of his best form since breaking into the West Ham United first-team.

Despite the FA Cup exit against Sheffield United, Anton won praise for his performance at Bramall Lane, and Tony believes the 20-year-old defender is benefiting from an extended run in the side.

"Anton is growing in confidence with every game he plays," he said. "I think the last two matches against Cardiff and Sheffield United have been two of Anton's best displays for the Club and he'll only get better.

"The more experience he gets at first-team level the more assured and consistent he'll become. I know from my own playing days that centre-half is a position you have to grow into.

"It takes a lot of responsibility and discipline to perform there week in week out, and Anton is showing that now. He's benefited this season from playing alongside the likes of Chris Powell and Malky Mackay, experienced professionals who he can learn from.

"Anton's a great athlete, but his concentration levels have perhaps let him down in the past. He looks to have improved that side of his game recently and if he keeps working hard and gets a consistent run in the side then I'm sure he'll become a key player for the Club."

It's at the other end of the pitch where Hammers have struggled of late, as again at Bramall Lane they failed to convert their dominance into clear-cut chances. Tony believes the absence of key striking personnel has hindered West Ham's firepower.

"Alan Pardew was missing some important forward players last weekend," he explained. "The likes of Sergei Rebrov, Bobby Zamora and Matty Etherington - all important creative influences - were out and the injury to Luke Chadwick was a further blow because it robbed the team of any natural width.

"Hopefully, if we can get some of those senior players back in the next couple of weeks, then the chances, and the goals, will start to flow again.

"In the last couple of games we haven't created enough chances for the possession we've had and I'm sure that's something Pards will be working on this week.

"But there are a lot of very talented forward players in the squad and we need those players back to help fire us up the League."

Despite admitting that the penalty shoot-out defeat to Sheffield United was a disappointment, Tony insisted that it will now free the Hammers to focus their attentions on the League.

"It's no use going on about the FA Cup and what might have been," he said. "It's in the past now and we've got to focus our efforts on the League campaign.

"We got a really vital three points against Cardiff in our last League game and we need to build on that against Plymouth this weekend.

"The Club needs to be looking to take six points out of the Plymouth and Gillingham games, because it's really important that we put a run of four or five unbeaten games together.

"Right now, we need to build momentum with a few good performances and then keep that positive energy going right through until the end of the season."