Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The March Of Youth

It is another quiet day today save for a slew of youth related stories on the official site. First up is Mark Noble, who we're told, is mightily impressed with the likes of James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears. All three have shown up well while training and travelling with the senior squad in recent weeks. Of reserve-team captain Collison, Noble said: "He is a fantastic player and a really nice kid as well. He handles himself well, gets on with everyone and is well liked. He is great in training every day with us, he is definitely one for the future." Collison, 19, made his senior debut away to Arsenal on New Year's Day, a match when central defender Tomkins, 18, also figured in the matchday 16 for the first time. "I rate Tomks highly," added Noble, who said it was harder for defenders to come through given the fact some of the best attacking players in the world are on view in the Premier League. That said, he has faith in his young colleague. "He is a clever centre-back who can pass, who can head - who can do everything."

The duo have been regulars around the first team since the turn of the year and Noble is convinced both will blossom when the time is right. He explained: "I am sure it is just a case of putting them in. As with me, you get chucked in and the adrenalin and the nerves kick in. You do things you don't expect you can do. They are just waiting for their chances and I am sure they are both going to be fantastic for this club in the future." Another name on the horizon is prolific scorer Sears - who has 20 goals in 16 games for the U18s this season and has begun to establish himself alongside Tomkins at England Under-19 level. Noble described getting a recent glimpse of the 18-year-old forward in action during a training ground match. "All the first team was watching and he was head and shoulders above the rest. He is quick, he can finish and he has got a little bit of arrogance about him as well. We have got some bright youngsters coming through."

The West Ham United reserves return to action this evening against Fulham at Bishop's Stortford. The two London rivals meet three days before the senior sides go head to head at Craven Cottage in top-flight action. Kevin Keen's side are on a roll and aiming for a third straight victory after a 1-0 success at Portsmouth and a 4-1 home defeat of Birmingham City. The Irons can go second, temporarily at least, in the 12-team southern section of the Barclays Premier Reserve League with victory. The club are two points behind Reading, who do not play until welcoming Arsenal on Thursday night. Aston Villa, whose away game against Chelsea on Tuesday night was postponed, lead the way at the top of the division by a further five points. Collison is intent on securing the highest possible league finish this season as well as maintaining his personal goals with the first team. "Kevin (Keen) had told us before the game against Birmingham, that if we won, we could go second in the table," he said. "That's what we want to do, get as high as we can in the table and keep getting the results. We have set standards for ourselves, we have a good mix in the reserve team of senior pros who have the experience and younger lads looking to push their way into reckoning for the first team."

Collison is also progressing well on the international stage, with another good outing for Wales Under-21s earlier this month in a 4-0 win in Malta, that also saw him make it two goals in three appearances for his country. If Wales continue their European Championship qualifying form for the 2009 finals, Collison could even find himself up against Mark Noble's England in the play-offs later this year. "It was nice to get amongst the goals and I was pleased to be able put in a decent performance," said the young midfielder. "It might be interesting if we get to meet England. I am sure there will be some extra banter between Nobes and myself if that happens."

Also hoping to continue his progress at reserve-team level tonight is Junior Stanislas. The attacking midfielder played a significant part off the bench in last week's 4-1 success against Birmingham City. Kevin Keen introduced him at half-time with the score at 1-1 after Jack Collison had cancelled out Birmingham's opener. Stanislas's arrival helped provide extra impetus behind Bobby Zamora that paved the way for the striker to score a comeback hat-trick. "Kevin wanted to change things around a bit, he felt we needed to push on in the final third and told me to come on, get involved and try to help change the game," Stanislas said. "He said get on the ball and do what you can for the team. Jack had got a goal and then Bobby went on and scored a great hat-trick, it was good to be involved and Kevin told me I had worked hard and done well."

These are good times for Stanislas as also continued his great form with the Under-18s at the weekend by scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 win at league leaders Southampton. "I am enjoying it," he stated. "Playing for the reserves has made me more confident and of course, you are learning alongside some of the senior players as well, it's good. My aim is to hold down a regular place in the reserve team, develop more as a player at that level and still push on and get better in the Under-18's. Playing reserves is a step-up, the game is much quicker and you have to learn that you don't get as much time on the ball, so you have to be thinking ahead all of the time." He has also had another taste of the England Under-19 set-up already familiar to Jordan Spence, James Tomkins and Freddie Sears - all of whom should also be on view this evening. He was involved in the 2-0 friendly win against Croatia earlier this month having also got a taste of playing against Germany last November. "It was a good experience, I loved it," he said. "Everyone wants to play for their country and you do think you must be doing something right for to be picked. But it only makes you want to go on and do more. In the last match, I came off the bench and had a few minutes and my aim is to have even more minutes on the pitch for both West Ham and England. With international football, it's all about keeping the ball and moving it fast as well. I had moral support from Tomka and Fred up there, and I really enjoyed it, so hopefully there is more to come if I keep working hard at my game."

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