West Ham defender gets a midfield masterclass from Hammers star Mark Noble

West Ham’s James Tomkins is learning the art of midfield play from Mark Noble after a gruelling battle with Southampton

Of all the bizarre ideas that West Ham boss Sam Allardyce has come up with this season, the inclusion of centre half James Tomkins in a midfield role is probably the strangest.

The idea is for the former Academy boy to slot into the defensive midfield role made popular by Papa Bouba Diop while he is out injured, but in reality it has been a real baptism of fire for the youngster for a very different reason.

“It is a new experience for me,” admitted the 22-year-old. “The gaffer has put me there twice with the idea that I was just going to screen the back four, but both times we have had sendings off, so it has been different.”

His manager has certainly been surprised by how well Tomkins has adapted to his task.

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“We’ve found a new position for him, haven’t we,” smiled Allardyce after Tuesday’s battling 1-1 draw with Southampton. “The adversity of having to cope with it twice when you’ve gone into midfield for the first time tells you a lot about the lad.

“Basically, we want him to use his football ability and also his protection of the back four by playing the sitting role.

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“Both times it’s not lasted very long and he’s had to come and play in the two and been great.”

Praise indeed for Tomkins, but he was quick to extol the virtues of midfield team-mate Mark Noble in helping him to adapt.

“The manager has had the faith to keep me there as part of a two and I feel like I have been working with Mark Noble really well,” he said.

“I am half looking at him and learning from him and he has certainly helped me through it.”

“He has been brilliant and I appreciate how much he runs around playing with him in centre midfield. He is full of energy and desire and that is what I have been trying to thrive off.

“I still need the legs that he has at the minute, but I think I will get there.”

Tomkins’ move into midfield has coincided with two red cards, but at the same time, there have been two monumental rearguard performances with him at the heart of things.

“I think we could have won against Southampton,” he said. “They had most of the possession, but I didn’t think they were really causing us too much trouble in the second half.

“In the first half, ‘Greeny’ pulled off a couple of ‘worldy’ saves to keep us in the game, but I think we defended well.

“I suppose the Millwall game was good practice in terms of playing with 10 men, but we could have done it against the Saints as we showed against Millwall and that is the disappointment of tonight.”

Another disappointment for Tomkins on the night was referee Lee Probert, not so much for the decision that saw Matt Taylor sent off, but more for the two penalties that he didn’t give.

“One of them was from my header at a corner and I saw the guy palm it with his hand and that was a stonewall penalty for me and the other one could have been as well – I’ve seen them given,” he added.

“It’s disappointing that the referee hasn’t seen those, but he has seen the push that led to the red card.

“We did get one penalty, so I suppose he wasn’t going to give us two.”

West Ham still held on for a point to stay on top of the table and Tomkins was taking the positives out of the performance.

“The table has closed up, but we do have a game in hand and we need to take advantage,” he said.

“The Southampton game is a really big boost though because it showed what we can do with 10 men.

“I think with 11 men we looked so far on top it could have been a lot more than one, I was thinking two or three. The sending off has killed it, but it shows that even with 10 men we can still do it.”

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