Westley hands Cullen full debut

Terry Westley will give youth a chance again when West Ham United take on FC Lusitans in their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round second leg tie in Andorra on Thursday.

The Hammers take a 3-0 lead into the picturesque Estadi Comunal d’Andorra la Vella and Westley, who will be joined in the dugout by manager Slaven Bilic, is looking to the Club’s Academy starlets to shine.

Josh Cullen will be handed his full debut in central midfield, while prospects Reece Burke, Lewis Page and Elliot Lee will also start, while all seven substitutes have come through the ranks. With captain James Tomkins also a graduate, it promises to be another proud night for the Academy of Football.

“We will go with Randolph in goal, O’Brien, Tomkins as captain, Burke, Lewis Page, Diego Poyet and Josh Cullen making his debut,” Westley confirmed at a pre-match press conference in Andorra.

“Morgan Amalfitano and Matt Jarvis will play wide, with Elliot Lee up front coming in for Mauro Zarate, who has a slight groin injury and has been training but we are being cautious with him, and Diafra Sakho.”

While the youngsters will be out to prove their worth, the senior players will also have an opportunity to impress Bilic, who flew back from the Club’s Irish training camp and travelled with the squad and will sit alongside Westley on the bench on Thursday night.

Tomkins, fellow first leg scorer Diafra Sakho, Morgan Amalfitano, Matt Jarvis, Diego Poyet and Darren Randolph will all have another chance to stake a claim for a place in Bilic’s Barclays Premier League thoughts, and Westley is sure they will not let anyone down.

“Slaven will be on the bench as the trip in Cork is coming to an end in terms of the work being done, so he has got himself here and wants to see the senior players,” Westley confirmed. “He was very interested in the way we played and this just gives him a second chance before he is taking major decisions to see these players in a competitive match.

“Slaven was very respectful to the competition by coming to both matches, he was also very respectful to the Academy by coming to Cork to meet this team and he gave the team talk before the first leg and again at half-time.

“He presented shirts to the debutants and watched the game from the Directors Box and made some observations. He has been on the bus and we’ve spoken about the team and he is right across the match, for sure.”
Slaven was very interested in the way we played and this just gives him a second chance before he is taking major decisions to see these players in a competitive match
Debutant Cullen replaces fellow Academy starlet Reece Oxford in the middle of the park, with the England U18 captain set to feature as a substitute, while Lee comes in for the absent Mauro Zarate, who was hurt in the first leg victory.

Republic of Ireland U21 cap Cullen impressed during a late cameo at the sold-out Boleyn Ground a week ago, hitting the crossbar with one outstanding effort, and has now been handed an opportunity from the kick-off for the first time.

Lee, meanwhile, also came off the bench last Thursday and will look to build on his reputation as a goalscorer when he goes up against the Lusitans defence.

The 20-year-old enjoyed a fine loan spell with League Two Luton Town at the end of last season and will look to hit the net again when he takes to the pitch in Andorra.

The young pair and their teammates will have to ignore any intimidation or physical play from Lusitans, who adopted a determined approach in the first leg.

“In terms of how they will play, will they come out and have a go at us or will they play five across the back and string players across the pitch?” Westley asked. “If you move the ball slowly, then they can make it difficult for you. They may come out and try to express themselves more.

“This whole European experience is about how many times the [first leg] game was stopped in the second half, how easily you get frustrated and being booked early for a bad tackle, as Reece Oxford was. All these things are a learning curve for the young players.

“Can we be competitive and not get involved in giving away free-kicks? Can we play at the tempo we need to, with the objectives we have set our players on this trip? I believe so.”
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