Similar to their first-team counterparts, the West Ham United Development Squad has enjoyed quite a 2012/13 season so far.

Ian Hendon's youngsters have won nine of their 12 Barclays Under-21 Premier League Group 1 matches so far to top the table and qualify for the post-Christmas Elite Group Stage with two games to spare.

The Hammers' youngsters have been quite simply superb, losing just twice and keeping five clean sheets to streak away from the likes of Arsenal, Everton, Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion.

Hendon has been able to name a settled side, with seven players making at least ten starts, and his players have responded by producing a string of consistent and resilient performances at home and away. Last Friday, top scorer Paul McCallum's 86th-minute winner at home to West Bromwich Albion was the latest in a series of impressive and hard-fought victories.

"It is always nice to win 1-0," said the coach. "It does not matter when you score, but to score so late makes it even sweeter and the clean sheet really was the cherry on top.

"The lads have been working ever so hard to qualify for the Elite Group Stage and hopefully now we can cap it all off by winning Group 1.

"It was not the prettiest of games [against West Brom] and the conditions were not in the best for great football or passing football, but you have to deal with those conditions and we did that.

"We were more direct and, in the second half in particular, we got the ball wide and got some good deliveries in the box which ultimately won us the game."

Rob Hall provided an inch-perfect free-kick for McCallum to divert home, capping another outstanding performance from the England Under-19 forward.

"There is a reason why Rob is on the fringes of the first team and you saw it against West Brom because his delivery is second to none," Hendon confirmed. "He has put a great ball in the box and credit to Paul because he has done well to get on the end of it. I was very pleased for him because he deserved it."

Injuries to centre-backs Leo Chambers and Eoin Wearen handed Pelly Ruddock the opportunity to make his first start of the season in an unaccustomed position, but the former Boreham Wood man did not let Hendon down.

"It was a very good collective effort but if I had to single one player out it would be Pelly because he did not put a foot wrong. He is a midfield player who has been asked to fill in at centre-back due to injuries and he has kept a clean sheet. I could not have asked for anymore.

"Our wide players Matthias Fanimo and Blair Turgott were a constant threat throughout and Paul McCallum always looked like scoring. George Moncur and Seb Lletget also did a great job playing against three midfielders - they had their hands full but they coped well."

West Ham complete the Group 1 stage by travelling to Norwich City on Monday 26 November before welcoming Blackburn Rovers to Rush Green four days later on Friday 30 November (7pm kick-off).

With an Elite Group Stage place confirmed, Hendon now hopes to give his star turns a rest and give a few younger players an opportunity to shine. Whoever players, the coach is determined to close out 2012 on a high.

"We have got a good squad of players and also a few Academy players that we want to have a look at so they will definitely get a run out.  We want to see how they step up and how they cope in games beyond their age-group. It is all about pushing players on and that is what we will do in the final two games.

"We now go into the next game and try and win again. The boys don't want to fizzle out now and lose two games - they want to carry on winning and finish strong."

Chelsea