With a two week gap between games, I will be using this blog site to debate the strengths and weaknesses of the present squad, trying to assess where we are in need of strengthening and where we are strong. Young Tommo follows on from old Lucash by way of juxtaposition.
When he came into the side against Everton, I was worried. Curbishley sang his praises but Tomkins was badly at fault for the Everton goal - he was too tight on Yakubu and was turned far too easily - and lucky that a repeat error did not lead to a second goal. When he played against Hartlepool, his passing was sloppy and a better team would undoubtedly have punished him. I will admit to being very critical of him after the Borough game. To be brutally honest, he looked undercooked to the point of being raw and I was very anxious going into the game against City, predicting that Ribena would crush his blackcurrants.
However, that City game seems to have been the making of him. I know Ribena doesn't really turn up for away games but he is still an awesome talent and Tommo must have had some self doubts going into the game. If Yakubu can turn me, what hope have I got against Ribena? If the Boro boys can expose me, surely it will be more than a close shave against the Brazilian, surely he will skin me? But Tommo stood tall, kept his bush and we kept a clean sheet into the bargain. And from that point, the kid has not looked back. (Well except to see if Green is coming to punch that cross!)
Positionally, Tomkins has been excellent and it was so impressive to see him and Neill working as an effective centre back pairing in the face of the Blackburn barrage. Now, it is one thing to look the part alongside Upson - even Downpipe looked like a Premiership defender briefly - but quite another to look impressive alongside Neill. To be fair to Lucash, he was excellent and kept talking to his younger partner, encouraging him to maintain focus and close, jump, close, jump, block, close and block again. At times it was like watching Ali against Foreman, backed into the corner, arms in front of the face, blocking blow after blow. That takes guts, that takes skill and Tommo and Neill showed it in abundance. It is a real shame that they did not get the three points that their performances deserved. Let's face it, Green was rattled and seemed to be one ill judged charge for a cross away from disaster for most of the second half. Tommo wasn't flustered, he just got on with his job to the best of his blossoming ability.
How good is he? Well he is not the finished article and he will cost us goals, just as a young striker misses chances and a young midfielder loses possession. When those mistakes are made, we must keep it in perspective. Look at the over reaction to Sears' solitary goal - we were all calling him the new Cottee! Look at the reaction to Tommo's error at Everton, some were ready to call him the new Strodder! That is the advantage of being the glory boy striker rather than the Mr Consistency defender.
Tommo is still raw, not as raw (that loan spell at Derby no doubt helped) but still raw. His main weakness at the moment is the failure to get distance on his defensive headers. When Collins' red head connects with the ball, it is as if it has been fired out of a cannon. "Take that" his forehead says, and the ball goes miles; when Tommo connects, it tends to loop and drop about five yards outside our box. Those neck muscles need strengthening. He also tends to head the ball without thought for direction. There were times against Blackburn when he could have headed the ball away from danger but instead dropped it just outside the box in an all too central position.
But let's not be too critical. Bobby Moore wasn't the best header of a ball and I remember Rio making many a gaff as a young West Ham defender. Upson didn't really mature until he was 27. Time is on Tommo's side and I think he is every bit as an exciting prospect as Collison. Let's get behind the kid, I see him as an England captain in the making.