Arsenal U18s 1-1 West Ham United U18s
U18 Premier League Cup, Arsenal Training Centre, Saturday 2 September, 11am BST
West Ham United U18s began their U18 Premier League Cup campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Saturday morning.
Both outfits threatened the opening goal as Arsenal’s Chidoze Chi smashed a low strike into the side netting, while Jethro Medine was later denied by the offside flag.
Arsenal continued to threaten in the first half, as Osman Kamara forced Finlay Herrick into an impressive low stop, although Jemiah Umolu also saw his strike denied by the feet of Alexi Rojas.
With both sides battling for an opener, the Irons saw Herrick shown a straight red card shortly after the interval as a result of a late challenge on the edge of the 18-yard box.
With no goalkeeper on the bench, Kevin Keen had no choice but to turn to forward Liam Jones, who was unable to deny Harrison Dudziak from opening the scoring for the Gunners.
The West Ham response was emphatic and impressive, however, as Joshua Ajala ran in behind the Arsenal back line and salvaged a draw with a venomous effort into the bottom left corner.
Despite the Gunners man advantage, West Ham would come the closest to winning their first fixture of the Premier League Cup campaign.
Dan Rigge saw his effort fly wide of the post late on, as the Irons settled for a valiant point as oppose to a brilliant three.
West Ham United U18s: Herrick, Battrum, Mayers, Adiele, Briggs, Medine (Ajala 66), Akpata (Caliste 53), Fearon, Umolu (Jones 57), Fawunmi (Sowunmi 66), Uwandji (Rigge 66)
Goals: Ajala 76
Booked: Akpata, Ajala
Keen: U18s’ character when down to ten was really pleasing
U18s lead coach Kevin Keen was delighted with his side’s performance, having fallen to defeat to Arsenal earlier in the season.
“We came here a couple of weeks ago in the league," Keen said, "and lost 2-0 so today demonstrates a massive improvement. We were very good when it was eleven against eleven and we played some excellent stuff at the end of the first half.
“We probably could’ve taken the lead although Fin made a very good save too. The sending-off caused the match to completely change, though!”
After the Hammers fell a goal behind moments after Herrick’s dismissal, and with ten men and no other goalkeeper in the side, it looked a long way back.
But Keen was proud of the application and character demonstrated by his side in order to level the score thanks to Ajala's stunning strike.
He added: “The response was absolutely massive. It shows our character and it also shows what outstanding young players we have. The goal was excellent and we were just as good elsewhere. Dan Rigge came on and helped to control the game and there was a desire from everyone to defend.
“It’s actually the first time I’ve ever not named a goalkeeper on the bench so it was bad luck today. Huge credit to Liam who stepped up and performed in that role. I’ve apologised to him because that’s obviously not where we wanted to play him today.
“The effort and the desire to get a result today to ensure that we stay competitive in the Premier League Cup was absolutely amazing. It was a wonderful goal that allowed us to draw level. We are really pleased.”
Jones steps up as sub goalkeeper
It wasn’t quite the morning that Liam Jones was expecting.
With no goalkeepers on the bench, the versatile forward was called upon to play in between the sticks for the closing 35 minutes with the score tied at 0-0.
“There was still a lot of time left to play at it was 0-0 when I came on,” Jones explained. “All of a sudden I’m in goal and we’ve only got ten men.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation but it was all about staying calm, relaxing the boys and trying to keep the ball as far away from our goal as possible!”
Jones was pleased with the determination demonstrated by the team in the closing stages and even made some important saves to deny Arsenal a late victory.
“The pressure was there at the end and I was pleased to make a few saves. There was a good 25 minutes left after our equaliser and we were down to nine men at one point.
“Arsenal were on top but the boys stuck together and defended superbly. We deserved what we got in the end. We dug deep and Josh scored an excellent goal. This is a top group and hopefully, we can achieve something special this season.”
West Ham United U18s will next be in action at home to Aston Villa at Little Heath training ground. Kick-off is set for 12pm.