Tomkins and Cole cheer Curbs

Alan Curbishley singled James Tomkins and Carlton Cole out for special praise after Saturday's 2-1 home victory against already relegated Derby County moved the side closer to confirming a top-ten finish.

The hosts always had the edge but it was not a straightforward success against a determined Derby that had run Everton and Middlesbrough close on their last two awaydays. Curbishley was aware though of the justified "expectation levels" to get a result against a team with just eleven points and only one win all campaign. Job done, United find themselves five points clear of Tottenham Hotspur in eleventh.


Curbishley said: "As Derby have shown all year apart from a couple of occasions, they have competed. Their last two away games were at Everton and Middlesbrough where they got beat 1-0. [At home] they drew 2-2 with Fulham and the [6-0] tonking against Aston Villa was there for everybody to see but they have been playing with a little bit more freedom [away] and it isn't easy. We are delighted to get the result. We have had tremendous problems this week as everybody could see so we are pleased with the result."

The 18-year-old defender Tomkins came in for his first start at the Boleyn Ground and impressed alongside Lucas Neill, who was back from injury and also playing at centre-back for the club for the first time this campaign. John Pantsil also got a rare start at right-back in a revamped back four. Further forward, there were three changes in midfield while substitute Carlton Cole came on to hit the decisive goal. The manager admitted he was "disappointed" that a section of the support criticised his decision to take off Freddie Sears, on his full debut, for the eventual match-winner.

"I know what happens here," the manager said when asked about the reaction that greeted the 74th-minute departure of the 18-year-old prospect for Cole, who also produced some important defensive work late on. "You put the results together and it turns the other way. When the team's winning, [visiting teams] don't like coming here because of the backing we get and when they are not happy they let you know but surely there has got to be some realism and appreciation of what has happened to us this year - week in, week out we have been under the cosh."

Curbishley made no excuses for the poor display at Bolton Wanderers last week but had praise for the commitment his men showed this time around. "I have been very appreciative and complimentary to the players all season because we have had loads of problems ... The players have been going out - apart from last week and a couple of occasions - and done the job as well as they could. I have got no complaints but if it is not good enough for some people, then we have just got to get on with it ... Perhaps the appreciation isn't there but it is up to us to turn it around."

The manager saw Jonathan Spector and Matthew Upson ruled out late in the week while Dean Ashton was unable to get over his tonsillitis. Focusing on the positives, Curbishley said: "It did give me the opportunity to give the two young boys a game, which I am delighted with. I was just a little bit concerned about Tomkins because he was cramping up. I was waiting to delay the subs as long as I could but I just felt we needed a bit more up front and I am pleased that Coley got the goal.

"Tomkins had an excellent game. He came in [last month in the 1-1 draw] at Everton and got caught for the goal. I thought he got stronger as the game went on today. I was really pleased with him and the fact that this group of players have stood up to be counted most weeks and got us where we are when we have had unbelievable problems just getting out there sometimes."