Youngsters seek Elite Group Stage place

West Ham United will seek to complete a superb double when the youth team take on Blackburn Rovers in Barclays U18 Premier League Group 1 on Saturday.

The Hammers, who go into the game in third place, will emulate their Development Squad counterparts by reaching the post-Christmas Elite Group stage if they match the result of fourth-place West Bromwich Albion.

Academy manager Tony Carr MBE said that, despite missing the likes of goalkeeper Sam Baxter, full-back Frazer Shaw and forwards Kieran Sadlier and Elliot Lee, he believes West Ham have enough talent to win in Lancashire.

"A win secures our place in the Elite Group Stage as long as we match the result of West Brom so that goal difference doesn't come into it," said Carr. "It is us or West Brom to get that third place.

"We travel up to Blackburn with a young side because of the situation with the Development Squad and the first team and some of the fringe players who have been on the bench will have opportunities to come in and show us what they have got.

"Hopefully we'll be travelling back down the motorway tomorrow afternoon having secured third place, because that will be a terrific achievement for the Development Squad and the Under-18s to be in the Elite Group after Christmas."

Carr has long held the view that player development outweighs the importance of results in youth football, but in this case the opportunity to take on the best Under-18 sides in the country after Christmas means a win is vital.

The Hammers are leaving no stone unturned in their preparation for the game, travelling up to Lancashire on Friday afternoon and staying overnight ahead of a slightly delayed kick-off on Saturday.

"The way the league is structured, results mean more than ever now. We are trying to prepare players to play in the first team where results are everything. So, at some point in a player's development, the importance of the result needs to be emphasised.

"The only downside of us going up to Lancashire and staying overnight is the fact we'll be on the M6 on a Friday afternoon! It's not the greatest journey in the world. We've got a 12noon kick-off at Blackburn's request to allow the frost on the pitch to thaw so we should be well refreshed by the time kick-off comes around."