Tomkins' time has come

James Tomkins is hoping to make his competitive debut for England Under-21s this evening in the rarefied air of the UEFA European U21 Championship curtain-raiser against Finland.

Having played for his country at every youth level, the West Ham United centre-back is hoping to capitalise on an impressive U21 debut last week when the Young Lions were 7-0 friendly winners against Azerbaijan. Although Steven Taylor has missed out on the finals, Tomkins is up against Michael Mancienne, Nedum Onuoha and Micah Richards for one of two starting berths.

"It's going to be tough task [to start] with Onuha and Richards still to come back from injury," he told WHUTV. "Hopefully I've given a little bit of food for thought and if I don't play, the manager said you've got to be part of a team in the 23 so if I get my chance I will go out there and impress him."

The Young Lions take on Finland in the opening game of the 2009 finals in Sweden knowing the contests will get more difficult with Spain and Germany to come in the group fixtures. Only the top two will progress to the semi-finals but Tomkins is hoping to build on his strong end to the domestic campaign to help his country cope with the challenge.

"Coming off the back end of last season I've done all right so I just need to keep going now until the beginning of next season so I'm just really enjoying it. To play against Azerbaijan was very nice, we had to make sure we went in with the right mental attitude early on and we settled pretty quickly and it was nice to go into a big championships playing full of confidence."

Tomkins very nearly scored on his U21 bow only for the woodwork to deprive him. "I thought I had scored but it deflected off the post and fell nicely for one of our players. Obviously it would have been lovely to score on my debut but the result was the main thing, it was brilliant.

"I think we need to play a lot quicker when we play in the tournament. We know it is going to be a lot tougher but we'll take a lot of confidence from the game. The manager said it was a good debut from me, which is nice to hear and he gives me a lot of confidence in training.

"He is great as a manager. He is very patriotic and what he tells you he means. You can see he is a good manager and hopefully I can carry on impressing him."

Tomkins was also full of praise for his club-mate Mark Noble, who skippered the team against the Azeris and could yet do so at the finals. "He deserved the captain's armband for being the great pro that he is," said the 20-year-old who many are tipping to follow suit at the 2011 finals.