Collison 'shocked' by rapid rise

Jack Collison has already made 2008 a year to remember having earned his first-team breakthrough after rising through the Academy ranks.

Much has been written about the tall midfielder this season after his impressive summer friendly displays saw him elevated to become reserve-team captain. He then earned international recognition with two games for Wales Under-21s in November. However, none of those achievements could surely have compared with making his Hammers bow.

With half-time approaching on New Year's Day, Alan Curbishley turned to the 19-year-old as a replacement for the injured Freddie Ljungberg. "He told me to warm up because Freddie was struggling," Collison told WHUTV. "I was a little bit shocked and then he's called me over and said 'you're going on'. I didn't have much time to think. I just had to stick my shirt on and I was on the pitch.

"He told me to get close to [Cesc] Fabregas and try and stop them playing but obviously when you come to Arsenal, a team like that has got so much movement and interchanges. It is hard but I did my best." Collison's commitment was clear by his disappointment at the final whistle, with Carlton Cole offering a consoling arm as he trudged off after the 2-0 defeat.

"Against a good side, I struggled a little bit but it can only get better from there. Arsenal are one of the best footballing sides in Europe. You don't see the ball for a couple of minutes and then when you get it, you have got to work hard to keep it. It is just a big learning curve for me.

Collison's surprise at a run-out was matched by his original disbelief that he was even going to be in the matchday 16, having been named in the larger travelling party. "It was a little bit of a shock to be involved," he said. "The gaffer told me earlier at the hotel so I had a little bit of time to prepare but I didn't expect to come on in the first half. It is just a dream really to come on at the Emirates."

Such sentiments echoed the words of 18-year-old defender James Tomkins, who also made it on to the bench for the London derby. "Me and Tomka have been travelling a lot lately, both been working really hard and both got rewarded by being on the bench," Collison said.

Having had a taste of the big time, he is hungry for more - starting perhaps with Manchester City at home in this Saturday's FA Cup third round. "I am really looking to push on. It is a great start to 2008 - players like myself and James Tomkins are looking to get in there while players are injured and do our bit for the team."

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