Academy aces in pole position

Tony Carr was a happy man after his Under-18 side moved two points clear at the top of Group A of the Premier Academy League at the weekend.

Goals from Tom Harvey and Freddie Sears helped West Ham United to win 2-0 at Crystal Palace as previous league leaders Southampton were losing 3-0 at Ipswich Town FC. The Hammers now have 42 points from 23 games, while Southampton have 40 from the same number of fixtures. Arsenal in third place are still most people's favourites for the title although they are six points adrift of top spot with four games in hand.

Reflecting on Saturday's fifth victory in six unbeaten games and a third clean sheet in a row on the road, Carr said: "We would like to finish the season on a high and keep this run going to the end. Certainly defensively we are looking quite strong. We are playing as a team unit at the moment. There is a lot of togetherness in the squad. We are getting the results and breeding confidence at the same time."

Once again, Sears found the net with his 21st of the season at U18 level from just 17 matches. His 85th-minute goal was impressive for the way he evaded the Palace defence before rounding the keeper to score and even more remarkable because he had only just come on as a late replacement. Carr said: "He is the guy you want in those positions because he can finish."

The 18-year-old striker was only on the bench because of his reserve-team run-out last Wednesday and potential inclusion for Kevin Keen's second string at Tottenham Hotspur on Monday night. "He has had a terrific season and caught the eye," Carr added. "All the players at this level must keep grounded and he is that sort of player. He is West Ham through and through and just wants to do well for himself and the club."

Carr was pleased with his whole team, but also had special mention for Adam Street in goal who played despite feeling unwell and also for Tony Brookes who showed versatility to play at centre-back instead of his usual full-back berth as cover for the rested Bondz 'Gala. Further forward, Josh Payne showed he can perform in midfield as well as the back while the side coped well with a formation that had Ben Hunt as the lone striker before Sears' late arrival.

"It is about juggling the team a little bit and making sure we don't push certain individuals and ask too much of them," said Carr. "We juggled the team around and it is nice we still got the result. It was a good opportunity." To further the positive news, Jack Jeffery got 20 minutes as substitute in a 2-0 win for Conference high-fliers Cambridge United on Saturday after starting his month's loan. Carr said such experience could only help the young striker as it did 'Gala earlier in the campaign.

"Bondz going to Weymouth for a short period helped him to grow up and did him the world of good. They are either going to sink or swim these young lads. It is good they are exposed to the real world of men's football. The game matters and it is really important at that level for these teams. The boys have to grow up quickly. We always try and give them the opportunity for them to go on loan.

"The circumstances have to be right and it depends what our needs are. We can't let players go on loan and leave ourselves short. It depends where we are at in terms of players but if we have the opportunity we always will." Finally, Carr added that goalkeeper Marek Stech was coming along on his recovery from an ankle injury although with the season drawing to a close he may not figure again this campaign.

Match report