West Ham United U23s captain Ajibola Alese has challenged his teammates to continue demonstrating why they deserve to be top of Premier League 2 Division 1.
The young Hammers moved back to the summit of domestic development football on Saturday afternoon for the first time since the opening day of the season, claiming a hard-fought 1-0 win over reigning champions Manchester City at Rush Green Stadium.
Sonny Perkins’ second-minute goal settled a game high on intensity and industry, with Alese making several brilliant defensive interventions to help West Ham’s development squad beat City, the division’s top scorers, without facing a shot on target over the 90 minutes.
The result was their fourth clean sheet in their last five games in all competitions, with wins in all four of those fixtures helping the Irons move two points clear at the top of Premier League 2 tree.
While Arsenal U23s, who have a game in hand, may yet surpass the Hammers again on Monday night, Alese has called on his teammates to keep showing their quality as they confirmed their status as title challengers.
“I didn’t actually know we’d gone top!” he laughed, speaking to whufc.com.
“To do that is always good. We just need to keep working hard and keep fighting to try and stay there.
“Going into the game, we saw that Manchester City had scored the second-most goals in the league [28 in 11 games] so far this season. We were expecting to face lots of shots, but we kept their strikers quiet and I don’t think our goalkeeper, Krisztian Hegyi, had a save to make in the end.
“The only thing that could have been better were if we got a few more goals – or if I scored myself! As a defender, when you keep a clean sheet, that’s you doing your job well, and to get the win was also good on top of that.
“Whatever age group you’re playing at, you know that City are going to be good, so to come away with a 1-0 points, facing no shots on target and a clean sheet, that’s the best that we can do.”
The win also marked a successful result for new U23s lead coach Mark Robson, who tasted success in his first game in charge.
The lads really like him [Mark Robson]. We just need to keep going, keep working hard and keep getting wins
Having worked with Robson before in the coach’s four-and-a-half year spell as a National Specialist Coach at the Football Association, Alese feels the former West Ham midfielder will prove a popular figure at the Academy of Football.
The defender noted: “I actually worked with him before with England, so I knew him quite well, but the rest of the lads have really warmed to him straight away.
“He’s come in and given us some ideas, some similar to Dmitri’s [Halajko], so it’s not been too dissimilar so far. The lads really like him. We just need to keep going, keep working hard and keep getting wins.”
Alese was also returning from international duty for England U20s, during which time he played the full 90 minutes in a 2-0 friendly defeat to Portugal.
“It was great,” he smiled. “It was just over a year since I last represented them, but it’s always an honour to play for your country.
“Although we didn’t get the win, it’s always a great experience to play for England.”
As for the future, Alese is confident his teammates can maintain the winning feeling surrounding the West Ham U23s dressing room at present.
“It’s always important to keep your momentum going,” he noted.
“We’ve won four out of our last five games now, so we need to keep going, keep improving and keep showing people that we’re good players and a good team.”