West Ham United U18s continued their incredible start to the 2022/23 season with a hard fought 2-0 victory against Leicester City
After a difficult first half, the U18s found a breakthrough courtesy of George Earthy and Favour Fawunmi’s fourth goal in three matches, with the two finishes enough to secure an important victory for the Hammers.
The win ensured that the Irons perfect start to their league campaign continued, with Kevin Keen’s side now seven points clear at the top of the U18s Premier League South table as a result of winning their opening seven matches.
U18s lead coach Keen was delighted with the determination and spirit shown by his side to overcome a challenging 90 minutes.
“It was a performance full of grit,” Keen told whufc.com. “We needed to weather a few storms and we did that successfully. Leicester were very good and it was one of our toughest matches of the season.
“They caused us quite a few problems and they could’ve had the lead going into half-time. We defended well and then we improved offensively in the second half. We changed some things at half time and it worked to good effect.
“It was nice to see George score. He has a fantastic record against Leicester and he scored a good goal for us today. It was also nice for Favour to come on and to continue his brilliant scoring run.”
The first big chance of the match fell to the Hammers. Lewis Orford pounced on a Leicester error and immediately slid the ball through to Earthy who attempted to round the goalkeeper, but the Foxes’ shot-stopper was on hand to make a vital intervention.
Despite the hosts’ strong start to the match, the visitors started to grow into the game and their first big opportunity came on 23 minutes. Amani Richards’ mazy run caused problems in the Hammers’ backline and the ball eventually trickled through to Trey Nyoni, who found himself one on one with Mason Terry. The West Ham goalkeeper raced out to smother the danger before the winger could produce a shot on goal.
Leicester were determined to break the deadlock before the interval. Logan Briggs latched onto a West Ham defensive error and carried the ball to the edge of the 18-yard box. The No10 then unleashed a powerful effort on goal which was well saved by Terry who palmed the ball behind for a corner.
After withstanding Leicester pressure at the start of the second half the Hammers took the lead in the 55th minute. Earthy and Favour Fawunmi exchanged passes on the edge of the the away side's box, and Earthy’s right footed strike found the back of the net via a slight deflection.
The opening goal and a change of shape seemed to rejuvenate Keen’s side. Oliver Scarles slid in to turn over possession and the hosts worked the ball to Fawunmi who had found space on the edge of the box. The winger took a touch and swept the ball towards the top right corner but the ball flew just wide of the post.
The hosts continued to push for a second goal and Regan Clayton showed fantastic skill and determination to get to the byline before playing a superb pass to Mubama. The Hammers striker narrowly missed the target and his left footed strike rolled just wide of the bottom right corner.
Leicester pushed for a late equaliser but the West Ham defence stood strong and the Irons doubled their lead in the closing stages. Fawunmi found space on the halfway line and the winger drove forwards to the edge of the Leicester box before unleashing a superb low strike to beat Addai at his front post. The goal capped off a hard fought performance, securing all three points for Keen’s side.
Keen was delighted to see a change in formation benefit his side in the second half, as the Hammers switched to a back four.
“The change in formation helped us,” Keen evaluated. “We started the season with a back four and it made sense to go back to that after the first half. We took the gamble to change the shape and the lads took to it really well.
“The first five minutes of the second half weren't great, but from that point onwards I thought we played well. It wasn’t just the change in shape that helped us either. The subs had an impact too.
"We have a really strong squad and we had a few boys come back down from the U21s too, so it took a bit of time but we got there in the end. It was a good win.”
The Hammers conceded ten goals in their opening four league matches, but have since kept their opponents out in the last three league matches. Keen was full of praise for his whole side after another strong defensive display.
“As a whole team, we defended really well,” Keen reflected. “Even in the last minutes our front players were pressing high and trying to win the ball back. We always say that you have to defend from the front and that we have to defend as a unit.
“Of course it’s great for Mason and the defenders and it’s a huge credit to them, and also the rest of the squad. We have a squad of players that show a great togetherness, everybody works hard and everyone wants to achieve things.”
Despite a superb start to the season, Keen was determined to keep his players focused ahead of some vital matches in the upcoming weeks.
He concluded: “We have some really tough games coming up. Next week we are away to Arsenal and then we go away to Chelsea. Then we play Tottenham at home after that, so it’s a big couple of weeks coming up.
“They are three fantastic games and brilliant challenges for us and I’m sure all of the boys will want to play in games like that. Our aim is to keep pushing. We want to do the best that we can every week and we always look to win every game. We weren’t at our best against Leicester City but once again the boys have proved that they know how to win.”
West Ham United starting XI: Terry, Falase, Tarima, Casey, Scarles, Clayton, Orford, Akpata (Fawunmi 45), Rigge (Battrum 70), Earthy, Mubama (Jones 89)
Goals: Earthy 55, Fawunmi 90