West Ham United Development Squad have clinched the Barclays U21 Premier League Group 1 title.
The Hammers were confirmed as Group 1 winners after second-place Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to West Bromwich Albion on Friday, meaning Ian Hendon's side are now eight points clear with just two games left to play. The Development Squad have won nine and lost just two of their 12 fixtures and will now go into the post-Christmas Elite Group Stage against the finest Under-21 teams in the country.
Speaking ahead of the first of those two matches at Norwich City on Monday afternoon, Hendon was naturally delighted to see his players and staff rewarded for their hard work.
"It's super news," Hendon told whufc.com, "We have won the league without having to play, which is great. From a Development Squad point of view, things could really not have gone any better before Christmas. It's a nice little early Christmas present for everybody.
"I have had pretty much the same group of players all the way through from the start of the season and that has been the major reason for our consistency and good results. The vast majority of the them are Under-21, so it is not as if we have won the league because we have been using lots of over-age players.
"The fact that both the first team and Development Squads are quite small has helped both sides, in a funny sort of way, because it has meant that there has been a consistency of team selection.
"Our midfield four of George Moncur, Sebastian Lletget, Blair Turgott and Matthias Fanimo have played in virtually every game, as have right-back Callum Driver and Paul McCallum up front. As a coach, I have been able to work on our deficiencies and our strengths with the same group of players and there is nothing like having the same team available most weeks."
Turgott and McCallum are two of four West Ham youngsters who were allowed to leave the club for loan spells at npower Football League clubs this week - Dan Potts and Rob Hall being the other two. Hendon believes the quartet will benefit from the chance to play regular first-team football ahead of the Elite Group Stage, which gets under way in January.
"Now we are through we can let a few players go out on loan and get some league experience while also keeping them match-fit during the break in Development Squad fixtures.
"I have managed at League Two level and I am sure that Blair and Paul [who have joined Bradford City and AFC Wimbledon respectively] have what it takes to make a mark at that level. Likewise, I'm sure Rob and Dan will do well at Birmingham City and Colchester United.
"Paul is a big centre forward and he's a bit of a target man and gets on the end of things. A lot of teams have been in touch about loaning him and now he has a good chance to get some league football under his belt and sample what it's all about."
Hendon. who will give some of his fringe players and Academy scholars opportunities at Norwich on Monday and in Friday's final home Group 1 game against Blackburn Rovers, also paid tribute to the hard work done by his backroom staff this term.
"It's a team effort. It's not all about me and the players. I want to thank everyone who has played a part in our success - physiotherapist Tom Smith, sports scientist Greg De Carnys, strength and conditioning coach Dan Bernadin, GPS co-ordinator Adam Crossley, goalkeeper coach Jerome John, performance analyst Charlie Radmore and our kit man Jamo Saban - and long may it continue!"