Nick Haycock was brimming with pride after his Development Squad made a winning start to the 2013/14 Barclays U21 Premier League season.
West Ham United's young professionals were in fine form as they brushed aside Aston Villa 3-0 at Rush Green Stadium on Monday evening, with Elliot Lee scoring twice before half-time and Sebastian Lletget adding a late third.
Lee overcame the disappointment of a shocking early miss to score two trademark poacher's goals before the break. Villa's Gary Gardner then launched a penalty into the car park after Pelly Ruddock had been harshly penalised for a foul before Lletget scrambled home a third in the 90th minute.
Haycock told West Ham TV that his players had put everything they had worked on in pre-season into practice against Gordon Cowans' team.
"I'm delighted," he confirmed. "Neil McDonald visited the team after the game and, based around the way Sam [Allardyce] works with the football club we set high standards, we've said to them that it was a very good performance but we're not going to give them an excellent because we thought they had too many chances, and I agree with Neil.
"It's now about picking up on the little, finer details during the review of the game that we do based around their own individual targets for the game and for the season.
"Equally, the boys deserve a pat on the back because it's a good start against a fantastic football club."
While Lee and Lletget got the goals, it was the return of Dylan Tombides to the starting XI that most warmed Haycock's heart.
The Australian had not started a competitive game for the Hammers since 27 April 2011, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer during the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
Tombides, 19, has endured some tough times in the intervening two years, but showed his fitness and undoubted ability during a virtuoso performance playing on the left of the front three.
"I was thrilled with Dylan Tombides," Haycock confirmed. "I thought he was a threat all night alongside Elliot Lee. We're playing with a front three at the minute and Dylan has adapted to that over the last couple of weeks.
"I had a selection problem before the game because I'm blessed with a squad containing six or seven wide players and forwards and one or two were unlucky not to be involved. Kieran Sadlier has had a good pre-season and so has Paul McCallum, but that's the beauty of having good players around that you can have a strong bench as well.
"I thought Elliot and Dylan were a threat all night up front, but you could go through the team and I thought everybody put in at least a 7/10 performance and there were a couple of eights and nines in there as well.
"Dylan is a fantastic lad. It was interesting seeing Stiliyan Petrov there on Monday night as well, because both of them have overcome adversity. It was terrific to see Stan on the sideline because he is a good football man. Dylan has been through that same trauma and you could see the pride in his family and the staff that he is back out on the pitch."
Having set a marker down for the Barclays U21 Premier League season ahead, Haycock has now challenged his young squad to show Big Sam and Macca that they can cope with first-team football.
"That's the goal. The Development Squad is solely about producing players for the first team. If we win the league, that's a bonus. We'll have highs and lows this season as a team and individuals, it's always the same.
"We've got a good group of young professionals who hopefully can start pushing towards the first team, but it's early days."
The Development Squad are back in action again on Monday 19 August, when they travel to Everton for a 7pm kick-off at Southport FC.
The Toffees opened with a 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday and Haycock knows his players will have to hit the heights again if they are to triumph at Haig Avenue.
"The win over Aston Villa gives me great confidence but, as any manager will tell you, it's one game and we take one game at a time. I've challenged them to come into the training ground humble on Tuesday and prepared to work.
"That's what we'll be saying all season: 'Work hard, listen to the coaches and support staff and hopefully you can keep pushing on game by game'."
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