Academy manager Tony Carr admitted West Ham United had been beaten by the stronger side in Saturday's 4-1 Barclays U18 Premier League Group 1 defeat at Blackburn Rovers.
The Hammers went into the fixture knowing victory would all but assure them a place in the post-Christmas Elite Group Stage, but injuries, loans and Development Squad and first-team call-ups left Carr and coach Nick Haycock with an inexperienced squad at their disposal.
With the likes of Leo Chambers, Kieran Sadlier, Elliot Lee, Frazer Shaw, Sam Baxter, Courtney Homans and Ben Marlow unavailable, West Ham fielded a side including eight first-year scholars and Chelsea trialist Walter Figueira at Blackburn's Brockhall Training Ground.
Carr admitted the home side had simply had too much experience for the young Hammers, who now look set to play in the Tier One Stage unless third-place West Bromwich Albion fall to a heavy defeat in their own final Group 1 fixture at Bolton Wanderers - allowing West Ham to overtake them on goal difference.
"Blackburn were too strong for us," said Carr. "Injuries and call-ups to the Development Squad meant we were left with what was essentially a squad made up of first-year scholars and schoolboys.
"Physically, it was a bit of a mis-match, but we worked hard and gave it our all. Unfortunately, we were not quite up to the standard and it was a tough, tough game.
"Going into the Tier One Stage is not a bad thing for us. With players being out on loan or injured, the Development Squad are likely to call on our players again after Christmas, so we will again be fielding a younger side.
"Being in the second tier means we can still qualify for the finals and play the Elite Group Stage winners if we can win our group."
While Carr was naturally disappointed to see the U18s lose out at Blackburn, he praised the youngsters for their attitude and for scoring an impressive consolation goal through the impressive Kieran Bywater (pictured).
"It was a good move and undoubtedly the highlight of the game as far as we were concerned. Dymon Labonne, who had come on for his first appearance of the season after recovering from a knee injury, put in a great ball and Kieran volleyed home from 15 yards."
The U18s will travel to Aldershot Town in the FA Youth Cup third round on Monday 10 December before taking a well-earned break over Christmas and the New Year.
Under-18s: Guzman, Siafa, Harney (Onariase 67), Nasha, Page, Miles, Cullen, Mavila, Bywater, Figueira (Labonne 73), Boakye-Yiadom (Martins 45)
Subs not used: Brown, Knoyle