West Ham United reserves 0-2 Aston Villa reserves
A youthful West Ham United fell to a Barclays Premier Reserve League South defeat by runaway leaders Aston Villa on a chilly night at Bishop's Stortford.
Hammers coach Alex Dyer named an inexperienced lineup containing just one player - 20-year-old striker Zavon Hines - with a first-team appearance for the club under his belt. Dyer also handed a competitive debut to Hungary Under-21 goalkeeper Peter Kurucz, who has joined West Ham from Ujpest FC on loan until the end of the season.
West Ham's youngsters produced a spirited display in front of the watching Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke at Woodside Park, with Hines and Under-18 midfielders Oliver Lee and Georg Grasser looking particularly lively.
However, it was Villa's Austrian Under-17 international winger Andreas Weimann who scored the opening goal of what was a slow-burner of a game, netting from close-range following a strong run and low cross from former West Ham striker Marlon Harewood ten minutes before half-time.
In fairness, Weimann's strike was no more than Kevin MacDonald's side, who are now eight points clear at the top of the table, deserved at the end of a first half they largely dominated. Aside from the 17-year-old's goal, the impressive Kurucz also did well to thwart the goalscorer again a short time later, while Nathan Delfouneso and Togo midfielder Moustapha Salifou also went close to doubling Villa's advantage before the break.
West Ham's best chance of the opening period fell to Balint Bajner after just five minutes, but the Hungary Under-19 striker was denied by a good low save from goalkeeper Elliott Parish following tricky build-up play from partner Hines.
It was a much more even game after the interval, with both Hines and Under-18 winger Anthony Edgar going close to levelling matters. First, Hines dragged his shot wide of the near post on 64 minutes after robbing his marker. Then, just 90 seconds later, Edgar was unlucky to see his well-struck shot bounce back off a startled Parish.
Earlier in the half, the hosts also had claims for a penalty turned down by the referee after Bajner's hooked effort appeared to hit a hand inside the 18-yard box.
While West Ham, who employed a fluid 3-4-2-1 formation, posed a greater threat during the second 45 minutes, a confident-looking Villa were always ready to spring forward themselves and could easily have doubled their advantage but for their own wayward finishing.
Salifou could only fire weakly at Kurucz following a period of neat build-up play, while the Hungarian goalkeeper was also in the right place to gather England Under-19 striker Delfouneso's effort from Marc Albrighton's deep cross.
The Villans' clearest opportunity, however, fell to substitute Dominik Hofbauer, but the 17-year-old Austrian could only scoop his shot over the crossbar after latching on to Salifou's inch-perfect pass.
Dyer sent on forwards Ahmed Abdulla - a recent goalscorer for Tony Carr's Under-18s - and Cristian Montano in search of an equaliser, only for MacDonald's visitors to double their lead through former SK Sturm Graz youngster Hofbauer's 84th minute header. The visitors then.held on to secure a victory that all but guarantees them the Barclays Premier Reserve League South title.
Youth team defender Sergio Sanchez, who has joined West Ham from Barcelona, was sent on for his reserve team debut with five minutes remaining, but the game was already up by then.
For West Ham, there are still 12 points and a possible second-placed finish left to play for when Dyer's side return to action at Stoke City on Monday 30 March.
West Ham United reserves: Kurucz, Okus, Fry, N'Gala, Eyjolfsson, Kearns, Lee, Grasser (Sanchez 86), Edgar, Bajner (Abdulla 75), Hines (Montano 81)
Subs not used: Loveday, McNaughton
Aston Villa reserves: Parish, Roome, Lichaj, Clark, Lowry (Baker 61), Albrighton, Hogg, Salifou, Weimann (Hofbauer 64), Delfouneso (Collins 90), Harewood
Subs not used: Dau, Gardner