Stokes in the spotlight

Tony Stokes is aiming to help the reserves finish their season on a high on Monday having enjoyed being back in the first-team picture in recent weeks.

Kevin Keen's reserve team have an outside chance of still winning the league, although they need to beat Arsenal at Barnet and hope leaders Aston Villa and third-placed Reading slip up in their respective final fixtures of the 2007/08 campaign. "All we can do is get a win in our last game, which hopefully we will do on Monday night and see what happens," said Stokes. "Hopefully they can slip up, we go back to the top of the league and then you never know what might happen."


The 21-year-old midfielder travelled with Alan Curbishley's squad for the away game at Bolton Wanderers last week before being in the frame for selection with the weekend win against Derby County. Stokes admitted "it has been a surprise" to be involved, having only figured once for West Ham United's senior side, in September 2005 when he came on in a League Cup match at Sheffield Wednesday.

Stokes said: "I have been working extra hard in the hope of catching the manager's eye. The last two weeks it has been nice to be around the squad and travel with them to Bolton last week. To be in the squad again against Derby was good and it has all been a surprise to me really." Stokes, who has three times left the Boleyn Ground for loan spells - at Rushden and Diamonds, Brighton and Hove Albion and, this season, Stevenage United, has also enjoyed being back with the reserves.

In a 2-1 win against Derby County's second string on 9 April, and with with Jack Collison rested, Stokes regained the skipper's armband he had last season. "It was good to be captain again. This season Jack has taken the captaincy and he has done well for us. It is nice when he is not playing to still be thought of and given the captaincy and the chance to work well for the team." Stokes did just that and led the line well in an advanced role, as he scored the penalty opener after forcing the foul in the first place.

He added: "I am always happy to go up front because I can do a job for the team. I know where I like the ball when I play up there and when I play in midfield as well I know where the strikers want the ball." Regarding that spot-kick, there was no doubt in his mind that he was taking it. "I was definitely having it. As soon as I went down and the ball fell to my feet, I just picked it up and thought 'yeah, I'll have this'. I don't normally take them."
Stokes is well placed to judge how good the reserves have been under Keen's stewardship this season. "I have been playing for the reserves since I was 17 and in all my time at the club, we have never been this high up the table. We are used to being near the bottom of the league. It has been great this year because we have not had a lot of first-team players so we have done well. To be in contention right at the end is a high achievement."