West Ham United's Development Squad clinched their place in the Barclays U21 Premier League Elite Group Stage by defeating West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at Rush Green on Friday evening.
The Hammers won for the ninth time in 12 Group 1 fixtures courtesy of another late show from striker Paul McCallum (pictured), who followed up his late winner at Arsenal on 9 November with another last-gasp goal.
On Friday, he forward bundled home Rob Hall's free-kick with four minutes remaining to ensure Ian Hendon's side will finish in the top two in Group 1. McCallum has now scored six goals in eleven Barclays U21 Premier League appearances this season.
The centre forward's intervention came at the end of a game of missed chances. The Baggies started strongly, with Adil Nabi causing havoc on the left wing, but it was the hosts who created their first real opening on 12 minutes. Blair Turgott, who performed extremely well on the night, drove down the right before finding Matthias Fanimo but his drilled shot was blocked away to safety.
Hall was next to test the opposition defence, but his darting run was brought to an abrupt halt by Liam O'Neill, who scythed down the forward 20 yards from goal. From the resulting free-kick many in the stands thought Hall had opened the scoring, but the ripple of the net was his curling effort brushing the side-netting.
West Ham had the ball in the net on 21 minutes, but McCallum was denied by an offside decision after a fine through ball from Sebastian Lletget. West Brom were also left frustrated by the assistant referee's flag shortly before half-time, when Nabi was denied a goal due to another offside call.
The Hammers came out for the second half firing on all cylinders but McCallum and then Fanimo were both denied by goalkeeper Shane Lewis. The Baggies stopper was again the hero after 62 minutes when Turgott found himself one-on-one, but Lewis came out on top once more.
With the game seemingly meandering towards a goal-less conclusion, midfielder George Moncur sparked his side to life in the final ten minutes, creating a succession of half-chances and shooting narrowly wide himself.
Then, with just four minutes remaining, Hall swung in an inviting free-kick that McCallum was able to bundle home from close-range, much to the delight of his team-mates and the 300-plus supporters in attendance.
Friday's victory put West Ham eight points clear of second-place Arsenal and 12 ahead of Reading and Norwich City in third and fourth and guaranteed their passage to the Elite Group Stage. There, Hendon's side will face the best U21 sides from across the country, including potential meetings with Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Next up for the Development Squad is a trip to Norwich, who the Hammers beat 2-0 in the reverse fixture at Rush Green on 28 September. The fixture will take place at the Canaries' Colney Training Ground on Monday 26 November at 1pm.
Development Squad: Baxter, Driver, Potts, Moncur, Ruddock, Spence, Turgott, Lletget, McCallum, Fanimo, Hall
Subs not used: Piquionne, Guzman, Powell, Shaw, E.Lee
*Development Squad defender Declan Hunt has joined Blue Square Bet Premier side Braintree Town on month-long Youth Loan.