West Ham United U23s v Leeds United U23s – All You Need To Know
After an outstanding first half to their season and a festive pause in fixtures, West Ham United U23s resume Premier League 2 action on Monday evening, hosting Leeds United U23s at Rush Green Stadium.
Little over 27 hours after the two teams’ respective senior sides are set to go toe-to-toe in the FA Cup third round, the two development squads will battle it out behind-closed-doors in east London.
You can still lend our development squad your support, however, with the game set to be streamed LIVE on the West Ham YouTube channel and whufc.com!
With that said, here’s everything you need to know about Monday’s game…
The story so far
With ten wins from their opening 14 Premier League 2 games this season – including nine from their last ten – there can be no question that West Ham United U23s deserve their current four-point lead at the top of the table.
Now, with 12 fixtures remaining – the majority of them away from home for lead coach Mark Robson’s young charges – and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City leading the chasing pack, the challenge is whether they can keep it.
The young Hammers will therefore be keen to make the most of their remaining five home league games, starting with the visit of Leeds to Rush Green on Monday evening.
The festive break in fixtures arrived at something of a season high for many of Robson’s side, with seven of the development squad involved – to varying degrees – in the UEFA Europa League fixture against Dinamo Zagreb at London Stadium last month.
Recapturing such momentum will be the focus of Monday’s game, with Robson and his players reiterating the need to maintain the high standards they set in the first half of the season.
As their senior side are sure to offer in the FA Cup third round on Sunday, Leeds United’s U23s will offer a stern examination of the Hammers’ trophy-winning credentials.
The junior Whites have admittedly struggled in their first season in Division 1 of development football, sitting 13th out of 14 teams after a run of just one win from their last 13 games in all competitions.
Nevertheless, much of the side remains who dominated Division 2 of development football last season.
Having been awarded Category One Academy status by the Premier League in the summer of 2020, the Whites duly set about winning the second tier of Premier League 2 by a margin of eleven points in their debut season, 2020/21, a record made all the more impressive by a run of 12 wins from their last 14 games.
Former professional midfielder Mark Jackson – himself a Leeds academy graduate – coaches the Yorkshire club’s U23s, having previously led their U15s/U16s and U18s groups, and achieved their impressive promotion in his first season as an U23s manager.
Much like their first team, Leeds play an energetic, entertaining and attacking brand of football, powered by the goals of recent England U21 debutant Sam Greenwood, who has seven in 14 games so far this season.
Bettering that record has been fellow 19-year-old forward Joe Gelhardt’s output, seven in nine seeing the England U20 international make four Premier League appearances and even score against Chelsea last month.
Leeds also possess defensive steel in the form of 19-year-old centre-back and captain Charlie Cresswell, a Premier League 2 Player of the Season nominee who is the son of former Preston and Sheffield United defender Richard, and is another recent England U21 debutant.
And with manager Marcelo Bielsa tending to rotate first-team squad members in and out of PL2 action – the likes of Luke Ayling, Jamie Shackleton and Tyler Roberts have all played development squad football this season – they retain an element of unpredictability.
Last time out…
When West Ham and Leeds’ U23s met in the reverse fixture in September, an entertaining 2-2 draw played out at Thorp Arch Training Ground as the hosts took an early lead.
Harrison Ashby and Jamal Baptiste responded with quickfire goals at the beginning of the second half, only for a late Leeds penalty from Greenwood leading to the game finishing all square.
Prior to that encounter, the two teams have not met since the formation of the Professional Development League.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s defender Jamal Baptiste: “I think it’s been one of our best starts to a season for a very long time.
“Obviously we’re top of the league, but not only that, we’ve been playing good football throughout the whole season, keeping as many clean sheets as possible, and everyone’s just playing as a team really.
“The spirit in the changing rooms and the spirit on the pitch is all good, and everyone’s bonded together as a squad. Obviously a few of the U23s have made our professional debuts recently as well, so it’s been a really good start to the season for the group.”
How can I watch?
West Ham United U23s’ match against Leeds United U23s will be played behind-closed-doors at Rush Green Stadium, kicking off at 7pm on Monday 10 January.
You can watch the game LIVE on the West Ham YouTube channel and whufc.com!
You can also follow updates through our live blog on whufc.com from 6.30pm and Twitter updates, and there will be post-match reaction and highlights pieces available over Monday evening and Tuesday morning.