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Teenage kicks

PUBLISHED: 15:24 27 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:09 05 October 2010

By JONATHAN CLEGG ALAN Curbishley believes West Ham s latest batch of young stars can help the club emulate Everton and challenge the Premier League s top four. The West Ham boss handed 18-year-old James Tomkins his first start for the club at Goodison P

By JONATHAN CLEGG

ALAN Curbishley believes West Ham's latest batch of young stars can help the club emulate Everton and challenge the Premier League's top four.

The West Ham boss handed 18-year-old James Tomkins his first start for the club at Goodison Park last weekend, the second teenager to make his Hammers debut in as many weeks.

Fellow academy rookie Freddie Sears, who made his first-team bow in a match-winning cameo against Blackburn seven days earlier, also helped earn a deserved draw on Merseyside with another impact appearance off the bench.

Both youngsters looked at home against an Everton side still chasing Champions League qualification, and Curbishley reckons the new generation of academy graduates can give him a squad to challenge for Europe next year.

"We had four home-grown players out there on Saturday - Anton Ferdinand, Mark Noble, Tomkins and Sears - and it bodes well for us in the future.

"I always had it in mind that Tomkins was going to play. Everyone has great hopes for him and young Freddie and it's looking good for us.

"It has made our squad stronger and if we can get one or two players back from injury, it will give us that little bit of quality that we need. I know I've got a decent squad."

Tomkins endured a difficult start to his West Ham career, committing the early mistake that allowed Yakubu Ayegbeni to open the scoring for Everton.

Yet Curbishley was impressed by the young defender's mature response to the early setback.

"I know he is quite aggressive but what pleased me most is that when Yakubu rolled him, it didn't faze him," he said.

"He likes to play and I think you saw that he does like to pass his way out of defence.

"He had a bit of a difficult start but he got stronger as the game wore on."

The Hammers chief is confident that the defender's mental strength will help him remain grounded following his first-team breakthrough.

Sears has also been in the limelight following his goal-scoring debut, but Curbishley is convinced that none of the club's emerging youngsters will allow success to go to their heads.

"They're very, very level-headed," he said. "It's difficult in the Premier League because everything is so hyped up.

"You play and it doesn't die down until about Wednesday and then you've got to get on with the next one.

"The people who are around them - we know they're level-headed and I think it's just all a big bonus for them at the moment."

Curbishley has pledged to continue to play his young stars in the coming weeks.

Sears could be handed his first start at Sunderland this weekend, with fellow teenager Jack Collison and 20-year-old Kyel Reid also likely to feature before the end of the season.

He said: "I'm going to start Freddie in one of the games, I've just got to pick it.

"He gives us a lift. He's an unknown quantity and he was unlucky not to score a couple on Saturday. Certainly we want to see him start a game and see what he's got.

"I've got a couple of other youngsters itching to get a chance.

"I don't know how it is going to shape up in the run-in but I did say I wanted to blood some of the younger players and if I can put in one or two of them, I will.

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