West Ham United Development Squad took a giant stride towards the Barclays U21 Premier League Elite Group Stage by winning 2-1 at Arsenal on Friday.
Goals at either end of the second half from Rob Hall and Paul McCallum (pictured) helped the Hammers to complete a Group 1 double over the Gunners, stretching their lead at the top of the table to five points.
With three matches remaining, Ian Hendon's side are nine points ahead of third-place Norwich City, who have a game in-hand. One more victory should secure a place in the post-Christmas Elite Group Stage, where West Ham could come up against the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Liverpool.
Hendon said: "It was almost a mirror-image of the first-team match in the Barclays Premier League in that they had plenty of possession and we looked to hit them on the counter-attack. Thankfully, we were able to hold out after they equalised and we got the win at the end.
"We scored our goals at good times - just after half-time and with a few minutes to go. We should also have had a penalty when Blair Turgott was brought down in the box. We've beaten Arsenal home and away now, which is a great achievement at any level.
"We are virtually assured of our place in the Elite Group Stage now, which makes me feel very proud. Arsenal have to play Norwich, so they can't both catch us now unless we lose our final three matches and I certainly don't plan on us doing that!"
Focusing on Friday's fine win, the Hammers produced yet another resilient performance to chalk up their fourth away victory in six matches this season.
West Ham started the game well, hitting the post after just five minutes when centre-back Eoin Wearen headed Blair Turgott's free-kick against the upright. Irishman Wearen was later forced off with a knee injury midway through the opening period, with Pelly Ruddock replacing him.
Arsenal came back into things as the half wore on, but wasteful finishing from Chuba Akpom and Kris Olsson meant the match remained goalless.
It took just a few seconds of the second period for that to change, however, as Hall took the ball from the kick-off and slalomed his way through the Gunners before planting his shot past Poland international goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and into the net to put the visitors in front.
Unsurprisingly, the Gunners reacted to falling behind by putting pressure on their opponents. Akpom and Thomas Eisfled both forced Raphael Spiegel into making smart saves, but the Switzerland Under-20 goalkeeper could do nothing to stop Serge Gnabry from levelling matters with 12 minutes remaining.
It looked as if both sides would have to settle for a draw as the game entered its final stages, particularly when Hall's free-kick curled narrowly wide of the post.
The England Under-19 forward was replaced seconds later and it was his replacement, midfielder Jack Powell, whose own set piece led to the winner. Powell's corner was met by Sebastian Lletget, whose shot was deflected onto the crossbar. McCallum reacted quickest to convert his fifth goal of the season.
West Ham played out time to record their eighth victory in eleven attempts this term. Hendon's side have 25 points, with second-place Arsenal on 20, Norwich on 16 and Reading on 15. A top-two finish would definitely take the Hammers through to the Elite Group Stage, while they should also qualify as one of the two best third-place teams, regardless of how their final three fixtures pan out.
The Development Squad return to action next Friday evening at 7pm, when West Bromwich Albion are the visitors to Rush Green.
*West Ham United's youth team host Arsenal in Barclays U18 Premier League Group 1 on Saturday morning. Kick-off at Little Heath is at 11am, with parking and admission both free of charge.
Development Squad: Spiegel, Driver, Wearen (Ruddock 25), Potts, Shaw, Turgott, Moncur, Lletget, Fanimo, Hall (Powell 86), McCallum
Subs not used: Guzman Rosique, Piquionne, E.Lee