Tony Carr has paid tribute to his young team as they maintained their fine form at the weekend with a superb 1-0 win away to Southampton.
The victory means the Under-18s have beaten the top two teams in the division in their last two outings away from Little Heath, having already won 2-0 at Arsenal a fortnight ago. Carr was also pleased that both successes had erased the memory of defeats by the two clubs earlier in the campaign, and that Saturday's match-winner Junior Stanislas had kept going despite missing an earlier penalty.
"Junior made amends and scored the winning goal for us," Carr said, mindful that Stanislas had also missed from the spot in a 2-0 win against Ipswich Town last December when he had already scored two goals and was on a hat-trick. His penalty profligacy is also surprising given his prowess with free-kicks this campaign. "He can't score from 12 yards but he was pleased to get the winner," Carr said. "He grabbed the ball and he was determined to take it but he missed. It is all part of the learning experience."
Stanislas is an exciting young prospect, with Carr expecting him to push on his development in a wide-right position although he can also play on the left-hand side. While he makes progress at club level, he has also twice been an unused substitute for England Under-19s this season. "He is on the fringes of the England squad," said Carr. "He's got a little bit to do to force himself into the team."
Reflecting further on Saturday's success, he said: "We just deserved to win it on the day. I thought we carried the bigger threat going forward. They defended resolutely and restricted us to a few efforts at goal but we got there in the end. It is a good time at the moment and hopefully we can carry on and remain unbeaten for as long as possible."
Aware his team had previously lost 6-1 and 3-2 to Arsenal and Southampton respectively inside a fortnight at the end of October and start of November, Carr explained his satisfaction at seeing things go his side's way. "It is always nice to make amends for an earlier defeat. Three or four months down the road, the teams are slightly different and it is a different game but it is always nice to get one back if you get beaten by a team. Southampton are at the top and Arsenal are second. We have beaten them both and kept a clean sheet."
With Bondz 'Gala back in the side after sitting out last weekend's 4-1 win at home against Norwich City, Carr this time decided to rest Jordan Spence. Both defenders figured for the reserves in the 4-1 midweek victory against Birmingham City and the youth academy director underlined that he has to get the balance right in terms of games played by his young charges. "I didn't want Jordan to play three games in a week. I knew Bondz was going to play on Tuesday so I left him out last time.
"When I get the opportunity I try to rest them here and there. You can do it on the odd occasion but it is difficult for them to play Saturday, Tuesday and Saturday," Carr added about his crop of talented teenagers who are still getting to grips with the game. Key to everything is the close coordination between the Academy and reserve-team manager Kevin Keen, through to Alan Curbishley's senior set-up.
"We work together every day so we talk about what teams are going to play, who might play and in which games. At reserve-team level, it is all to do with what senior players play and then we work it back from there." In the table, West Ham United have moved three points clear of Arsenal, who lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace, to take sole claim of second spot, a point behind Southampton.