Tomkins glad to be back

With a trip to Newcastle United on Saturday to look forward to after returning to West Ham United's starting lineup for the FA Cup last weekend, it will surprise few that James Tomkins is rather happy with the way life is going at the moment.

The 19-year-old defender, who burst on to the scene with a succession of impressive Premier League displays at the tail-end of last season, was handed his first Hammers appearance of the season in the 3-0 win against Barnsley after Matthew Upson was ruled out with a virus.

Tomkins responded with another assured, unflustered display that will no doubt have impressed watching manager Gianfranco Zola. The club's coaching staff had been keeping a close eye on Tomkins during eight games on loan at Derby County at the end of 2008 and knew he was up to the challenge. 

"It was good to be back. I've come back and I've started which was obviously great for me. Matthew Upson has done so well in recent weeks so I've had to come in and raise my game. I've coming from a club that is down at the moment [Derby] to West Ham where there is a good team spirit at the moment. To win the game and clean sheet were the most important things."

Tomkins admitted that the experience he gained during his five-week stay at Pride Park had stood him in perfect stead against Barnsley's physical forwards Kayode Odejayi and Maceo Rigters. The teenager belied his tender years with a mature, composed performance at the Boleyn Ground.

"I've had quite a bit of experience in the Championship playing games for Derby and I'd come up against quite a few physical lads like Barnsley's strikers. I think I'm learning more and more and used my experience to play against them. I'm pleased."

Tomkins was also quick to appreciate the influence Zola and Steve Clarke have had since their arrival in east London four months ago. "The gaffer has obviously encouraged me a lot since he's been here and given me the confidence to play and be confident. I think you can see that in the way I'm playing at the moment. I've improved little by little through the information that he's given me.

"He's started me now which was brilliant for me, as was him bringing me back from loan. I enjoyed it against Barnsley and now I need to push on from here.

"Steve has had a lot of experience playing for Chelsea. He brings that experience to the team. He's played under so many good managers at Chelsea and he uses that which is good for people like me. If he spots something that you need to improve, he tells you, and that's good because obviously you want to improve as a player."

While he was delighted to find himself back in West Ham's starting lineup, Tomkins knows Upson is likely to return against Newcastle this weekend. As such, the amiable England Under-20 defender has vowed to keep up the good work on the training pitch and keep himself in Zola's thoughts.

"I've done well but it doesn't stop here. I'm going to keep working hard in training and trying to impress because there's a lot of competition here and a lot of good centre-halves who I'm learning from."