Cullen suffers birthday blues

Josh Cullen had little to celebrate on his 18th birthday on Monday after the Development Squad slipped to a 2-0 loss against Bolton Wanderers at the County Ground.

The midfielder played alongside Joe Cole in the centre of the pitch as the Hammers conceded a goal in both halves en route to a defeat which all but ends their hopes of a top-four finish in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League.

Bolton scored their opener just moments before the half-time whistle and Cullen felt the goal was harsh on the visitors who had created a number of chances themselves in the first period.

He told West Ham TV: "It's never nice to concede just before half-time, especially as we'd had a decent first half.

"They nicked one on the counter-attack just before half-time and you know you've got to chase the game in the second half. Their second goal came in a similar fashion. We're not pleased, but we've just got to pick ourselves up now and get ready for Blackburn."

The team's second half performance disappointed the young midfielder who was hoping to celebrate another win following a 2-1 success against Middlesbrough last time out.

"We're disappointed with the 2-0 loss. We recovered from defeat against Arsenal by beating Middlesbrough and coming into today I thought that in the first half we deserved something out of the game.

"In the second half I think we'd all agree that it wasn't good enough. We've got to pick ourselves up now and make sure we put it right against Blackburn on Friday."

Nick Haycock substituted Cullen in the second half citing fatigue as the reason behind his decision following a hectic few days for the 18-year-old.

In the week preceding this one, Cullen was called up to represent Republic of Ireland Under-18s for the first time and featured in two matches against the Czech Republic over the course of three days.

The call-up was a welcome one for the midfielder who is keen to maintain the form that saw him earn his international recognition.

"It was a good experience. It's the first time I've been away and for the group to meet up for the first time at the age-group and do fairly well against a good nation in the Czech Republic, we were pleased with that.

"I went over there for a training camp a couple of years ago now and I was due to go away with them anyway but picked up an injury which put me out. It was a nice feeling to get the call again a week before hand, so I was looking forward to it and I enjoyed it.

"The U19s is the next step-up in the Euro qualifiers next season, so I just have to keep my performances up and hopefully the call will come again. My main focus is with West Ham and making sure that we finish the season well."

Only two games remain for the Hammers with a home match against Blackburn Rovers on Friday followed by the season finale against Sunderland on 17 April.

With their chance of a top-four finish fading fast, Cullen is keen to ensure the Hammers secure a top-eleven spot to ensure they are in the top tier of Under-21 football next season.

"We really want to make sure that we're in the top-half when the leagues get split into two. We've got to go to Rush Green on Friday, play for pride and make sure we put things right against Blackburn."