WEST HAM’S James Tomkins believes his defensive partnership with Matthew Upson is starting to solidify, to the point that the pair are becoming the rock on which the club are building their survival fight.

The Hammers have enjoyed something of a mini-revival of late; one defeat in five Premier League games has taken them up to the heady heights of 14th. And it is no surprise that the upturn in fortunes has coincided with the impressive form of club captain Upson and his understudy, Tomkins.

In that time the team have conceded just three goals, and the central defensive axis has been instrumental in keeping the opposition at bay – save for one costly misjudgement by the skipper against Burnley a fortnight ago.

Twenty-year-old Tomkins is now manager Gianfranco Zola’s first-choice partner for Upson. After a few teething problems, the young defender has matured into the role; a development that he puts down to his evolution alongside Upson.

“I think the more I play with Matty the more I learn off him and the more we play well together,” said Tomkins. “We cover each other well and he’s a good lad to have, someone I always looked up to as a player.

“His communication with me is brilliant. I love playing with Matty and hopefully I can continue doing so.”

Tomkins’ comments came after West Ham had thoroughly outplayed a Birmingham City side that have been this season’s surprise package in the Premier League.

Two exquisitely-taken goals from Alessandro Diamanti and Carlton Cole either side of half-time did the damage that day, and the performance, as well as the result, has set the team up perfectly for another must-win clash against Hull City at Upton Park on Saturday.

According to Hammers co-owner David Sullivan, it was his pre-match criticism of his players and manager that inspired the team to victory over his former club. But there should be no need for such questionable tactics this time around, as the team face another of their relegation rivals in Phil Brown’s Tigers.

Tomkins added: “We need the three points against Hull. It’s going to be a massive game. We’ll go into the game with the same attitude to get a win. That’s what we need to do. Everyone’s aware of the situation, so let’s crack on.”

The squad has been creaking under the weight of off-field problems and on-field inconsistency this season, but Tomkins’ partner on the pitch and the man in possession of the coveted captain’s armband claims he is relishing the added responsibility that has come with his role this term.

Upson said: “(I’m) definitely (enjoying the captain’s role). I have a lot of responsibility and I’m glad of that. I want more and I want us to do well. It’s a good time for us, an important time.”

The England centre-half will earn his corn in the final quarter of the campaign as he bids to lead the team out of the wilderness. However, given the strides his apprentice has made in recent weeks, he may have one less job to worry about.