Defensive duo breaking through

A good understanding is key to a strong defensive partnership, ask any Premier League defender. Goals may win matches, but a solid display by the men at the back is usually essential for victory.

While only at the beginning of their careers, West Ham United's young central defenders James Tomkins and Jordan Spence are already showing signs of a great double act, both on and off the field. sat down with the promising pair to hear more about their hopes of finding a way to the first team.

This week they helped the reserves share the points in a rousing 2-2 draw against Arsenal and not only gave an assured display together at the back, but also proved they can help out up front as well. Spence grabbing West Ham's first goal in the match and Tomkins, who provided the assist for his younger team-mate, going close himself.

"I think I have a good understanding with Jordan," said Tomkins. "We haven't played that much together what with Jordan still playing for the youths this season and me coming back from injury, but when we have done, we have gelled really well. In the match against Arsenal, we wanted to be strong at the back and were encouraged to go forward when we could, especially at set-pieces. We knew we could help create something and Jordan managed to pop up with one of the goals, so that was good."

Spence nods in agreement but also is not slow to give team-mate Tomkins "a word" for the part he played. "It was good to score in that match, but I must give Tomka some credit as he nodded the ball down for me.

"Tomka was also getting on the end of a few corners himself. As he said, we like to get forward, it's part of the way we play and I think we complement each other well." So, who gives the shout on who stays in defence when a free-kick or corner is about to be taken and who goes forward to lend a hand in attack?

"I think we decide together in the match, when it's happening really," said Tomkins. "But we will also talk about things like set-pieces in the dressing room and if we know that this is where we can be a danger as a team, then myself and Jordan would be ready to go forward and do what we can."

Spence added: "We talk to each other on the pitch and know what the other is doing and it just goes from there. It's good to have an understanding like that." That relationship has been forged in Tony Carr's youth academy but each has also gained plenty of experience with England at youth level.

Tomkins - older by a year, at 18, and also an inch taller, at 6ft 3ins - and Spence have both been regulars in the international set-up since an early age. While their hunger to succeed and ultimate ambitions with club and country are the same, there are also similarities away from the action - with a great camaraderie between the two good friends.

It was in the 2004/05 season that a similar young defensive partnership took flight at West Ham United and, such were the strength of their performances, they played a big part in helping the club get promoted. That of course was Anton Ferdinand and Elliott Ward, who came through the ranks just like Tomkins and Spence.

Today, Ferdinand remains a rock at the heart of the first-team's defence and while Ward has since moved on, he is a regular in the backline for Championship side Coventry City. Both youngsters said they would "love to" follow in their footsteps and get the chance to make a significant impact at the Boleyn Ground.

"That would be good," smiled Tomkins. "I mean, you never know, fingers crossed we can play together well and take it all the way to the first team like they did." Spence added: "We know all about Anton and Elliott, so for us to follow them, is something we are definitely aiming for."

For now they are looking to establish themselves as a central pairing for the reserves and Spence, deferring to his older colleague, said he was learning a lot from Tomkins. "Playing alongside him has been good. Against Arsenal, Tomka was excellent and I can feed off the experience he has, because, yes, he is slightly senior to me!

"He has played more reserves matches than I have, but if we can get more games like the one we have just have, there's no reason why we can't get a good partnership together and do well for West Ham."

Tomkins added: "We have both started well this season in the reserves and everything is going well for us. We will both be looking to take every chance that comes along, that's for sure." Always ready to embrace homegrown talent, West Ham United fans will be willing the pair to do just that in the months and years to come.