'I could not fault my players' efforts'

West Ham United U18s boss Steve Potts and his players went through the full range of emotions before, during and after his side's 2-2 draw with Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

Before kick-off at Little Heath, a ceremony was held in memory of Dylan Tombides, who passed away recently following a three-year battle with cancer. A minute's silence was held and captain Kieran Bywater laid a wreath on the centre spot.

Potts watched Tombides throughout his time with the Academy. The striker was a close friend of his son and fellow graduate Dan, who came through the ranks in the same year-group.

"As a player, and I don't say it lightly, Dylan had everything," said Potts. "I remember him having a fantastic season in the U16 group. He had two good feet, could hold the ball up, was good in the air, had great awareness and could finish as well as any youngster I have seen.

"As a player, Dylan just had huge potential. Unfortunately he is never going to realise that potential and that is heart-breaking.

"I know his parents Jim and Tracylee very well because I used to travel to games with them as my Dan was in the same team as Dylan. They are real down to earth parents and I cannot speak highly enough of them. They are parents who said it exactly how it was because if Dylan or his younger brother Taylor, who is in my group at the moment, weren't doing what they were meant to, then they would've been the first to sort it out themselves.

"The thing that I will remember most about Dylan is Dylan the person. After everything that he went through, whenever I saw him at the training ground, he always had a smile on his face and wanted to get on with his training.

"Everyone knows what he has been through and some of the treatments he has had, which were horrible for him, but he kept fighting it and coming back to work hard because he just wanted to be a professional footballer. It's heart-breaking for me that he hasn't been given the chance to fulfil his dreams.

"I'm just so gutted and the whole Club is in shock really because he was just a great example to everyone.

"There was an element of real sadness around the place when everyone turned up for the game.

"I knew we were going to hold a minute's silence and have the wreath on the centre of the pitch but what I didn't realise was that Dylan's parents and Taylor were going to be there. It was just heart-breaking to see them and I feel so sorry for them.

"Taylor has had terrible luck with injuries which has prevented him training and playing much this year. I often think that footballers find a release on the pitch during adversity but Taylor has not even had that luxury. I know he was very close to his brother."

As for the match itself, West Ham took an early lead through Jordan Brown before Bolton pair Carl Kennedy and William Abbotts netted either side of half-time to put the visitors in front. Brown levelled with 13 minutes remaining to secure a share of the spoils.

Potts paid tribute to the professionalism of his players in the light of the recent loss of someone all of them liked and respected.

"I could not fault the efforts of my players. I could see the shock and sadness in their eyes before the game so to produce a performance which warranted a win was fantastic.

"We had some really good chances, but Bolton played very well and got lucky along the way with ricochets which took our efforts away from goal when, on another day, they would've hit the back of the net.

"Fair play to Bolton for that because you are always going to come up against opposition that are going to defend for their lives. It was up to us to open them up and punish them."

West Ham have one regular season fixture remaining, with Arsenal visiting Little Heath on Friday afternoon. Victory then would firm up the Hammers' place in the Play-Offs.

"It will be a fantastic game for the boys to play in against Arsenal. They are a good team and it's our final game this season at home so you couldn't ask for much better opposition because you already know that it's going to be a tough test for us.

"That's all you really want from the season - that the boys are going to be tested as much as they can be and hopefully we can end the season on a high note."

Parking and admission for Friday's 1pm kick-off are both free of charge.