Promising midfielder Josh Cullen is relishing the opportunity to make his mark at U21 level when West Ham United travel to Colchester United on Thursday evening.
With the international break giving Nick Haycock's side a free weekend and a number of Development Squad regulars with the first team in Spain, Cullen and some of his fellow scholars have been drafted in to face the U's in a friendly.
Cullen, a former England U16 international, has started three of the Hammers' opening four Barclays U18 Premier League matches and is now looking forward to showing Haycock that he belongs at the next level up.
"It's going to be a great experience for the lads and will give opportunities to the boys who maybe haven't had the opportunity at U21 level before," explained Cullen, who played three times for the U21s in pre-season. "It's a good chance for us to show the manager what we can do and show him he could be playing us in the league games.
"Hopefully, we can play well and some of us can keep our places. The U21s have got a strong midfield but ultimately we are looking to take their places. We're a team and we perform as one, but at the end of the day we want to be in the first team.
"Everyone gets on well and it's healthy competition. They want the shirt and you want the shirt and we all do our best on the pitch. You're just doing as well as you can to get into the team."
Reflecting on the U18s, Cullen has returned from a knee injury that restricted him to 20 appearances at that level last term. Now a second-year scholar, the 17-year-old is eager to make up for lost time.
The teenager started the 2-1 home win over Manchester United, 2-1 defeat at Chelsea and 1-1 draw with Southampton at Little Heath before being rested for Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
"We obviously made a good start against Manchester United and got the result we were looking for, so we started the season well. We then went to Chelsea and in the second half, if we had cut them open a bit more, we might have been able to get a point or even all three.
"Against Southampton, it was a tough game as it always was going to be because they have good players, but we went 1-0 down and did well to get back into the game. With the chances we had, we could have won.
"Lastly, against Wolves it was another tough game and our defending from set pieces let us down. There are things we still know we can improve on and if we can cut out the silly mistakes then, although we've only picked up four points, we can perform well and do well in the league this season."
On a personal level, Cullen is delighted to be back to full fitness after a frustrating few months on the sidelines earlier this year.
"I had a bad knee ligament injury at the back-end of last season, so even though I've had a good pre-season I've just been eased back into things this term," he revealed. "I tore one of the ligaments in my knee, so it was a bad injury but I've come back and started three games.
"I was rested against Wolves as we had three games in the space of a week, so I missed that but I'll be ready for Thursday night.
"I'm back fit and am over the injury, so I'm easing myself back in and hopefully I can keep going and keep my performances up and help the team to get positive results."
Tickets for Thursday's 7pm kick-off at the Weston Homes Community Stadium will be available on the night priced at £10 Adults, £7 Concessions, £5 U18s, £3 U14s and £1 U8s.