Potts philosophical over Play-Off loss

West Ham United Under-18s were defeated 2-1 in a dramatic Barclays Under-18 Premier League Play-Off Semi-Final at Manchester City on Saturday.

The Hammers' hopes of an appearance in the final looked good when Jordan Brown finished into an empty net in the opening 10 minutes, before the hosts grabbed victory in the closing 10 minutes through captain Ashley Smith-Brown's deflected effort and Kean Bryan's penalty.

Despite coming out of the game with a defeat, U18 boss Steve Potts felt that that his side performed to the best of their abilities.

"I couldn't have asked for more from the lads," admitted Potts. "At the start of the game, we were playing some excellent football and were by far the better team. We went a goal in front and then could have had a penalty, but then they got back into the game in the last 15 minutes of the first half like you expect them to. They had a few opportunities but didn't exactly cut us open. We also had a great chance at the end of the first half when Jamie Harney's header was cleared off the line where we could have got the second goal.

"In the second half, we came out pretty strong again and I know they did have a lot of possession after that but it was a case of whether we could defend properly to keep them out and when we had the ball, could we hold onto it and work it well to have a pop at them, which we did once or twice.

"We held on till the last 10 minutes when they were having a lot of the possession and they managed to get a deflected goal and a penalty.

"I really couldn't have asked for more effort from the boys and I'm just gutted for them. They've been excellent all year and they showed their qualities again in this game but it just wasn't enough in the end."

Considering that the Hammers finished their Southern Group with 13 points fewer than the Northern Group winners, Potts feels that his side could have shocked the hosts with their first half performance, although it was nothing out of the ordinary in his opinion.

"Maybe we shocked them in the first half by the way we were playing, but it didn't surprise me as I know what these lads are capable of," continued Potts. "We were the much better team in the first half and the lads can take a lot of encouragement from that.

"Ideally you want to be taking the game to them for the whole 90 minutes and take all your chances but let's not underestimate what a great team Manchester City are. They finished at the top of the Northern Group quite easily so we were always up against one of the best teams in the country and we nearly got the result."

The game was filled with a number of questionable decisions, including striker Brown not being awarded a penalty in the first half for a foul and the referee awarding a dubious penalty for the Citizens in the 88th minute. Potts admits that he felt both were penalties, but the referee should have dealt with the winning penalty at the end better.

"I thought they were both penalties. Jordan went over in the first half and I thought it was a clear penalty. He got away from his marker and in between two bodies and was taken down when he was ready to get a shot in.

"For theirs, I think there was a handball from our player but what happened with the referee was that he consulted his assistant, who didn't give it, and then gave the penalty. That was the dubious part about the penalty. If he had pointing to the spot straight away then we would have thought that it was fair enough because there was a handball but he wasn't quite sure what to do and he gave the penalty."

The defeat to Manchester City brings the Academy's season to an end and Potts feels that his side can take a number of positives out of their performances throughout the year.

"There has been plenty of positives this season, this game included. The middle part of the season was fantastic for us when we went of the long run of results. At the start of the season we were playing really well but were not getting the results, but like I said, it picked up for the middle part of the year.

"More recently we have been playing well with some mixed results at times but we got to second in the table and I think we deserved our shot at Manchester City in the Play-Offs.

"We have played some excellent football and plenty of positives but we didn't quite get what we wanted against Man City."

After the match, Irish defender Jamie Harney acknowledged that the Academy could have defended better, but believed that the club deserved to take a result out of the game.

"It was very, very difficult for the lads to take," conceded Harney. "As a team I thought we defended superbly throughout the game and coming up to the last 10 minutes I really thought we were going to win it!

"A couple of refereeing decisions really cost us in the game but overall we have to congratulate Manchester City. We also have to congratulate ourselves on a good season but it was a tough result to take at the end of the day.

"In the first 30 minutes, I thought we were playing outstanding football and I feel that Man City were shocked at the way we came out the blocks. Josh Cullen did really well to close down the keeper for the first goal and Jordan finished well and again, I felt a few penalties could have come our way. I even had a header myself cleared off the line so in the first half I think we did really well. In the second half though, Man City were dominant throughout.

"I think we should have realised that with ten minutes to go, we were too open at the back when they were breaking forward on us and we should have just kept our back line nice and solid. One of their players got past someone and went to put the ball in and I just went for the ball as a last ditch attempt to win it and unfortunately I've got a touch on it and it's gone in. It's one of those moments when you've got to put your hands up and admit that we could have defended it much better.

"As a team, I thought we have been outstanding all season; bar the Youth Cup. We have played well and got results against most of the big clubs in the league and felt we really deserved this opportunity."

On a personal level, Harney is pleased with his performances and development throughout this campaign but is already looking to better himself next season.

"For myself, I feel like I've had a good, solid season," continued Harney. "I've pushed myself up to the Development Squad and feel that I've shown that I can play at that level.

"Hopefully I can come back next year and see where I am, push on and maybe even force my way into a first team appearance at some point. All I can do is keep playing as well as I can and I'm really happy at the moment."