West Ham United U21s battled out an entertaining 1-1 draw against AFC Bournemouth at Rush Green on Sunday lunchtime.
During a strong first half performance, striker Jordan Brown fired the Hammers ahead when his low shot from distance found the corner of the net, although the lead only lasted until the hour mark when Joe Quigley netted the equaliser for the visitors.
The Hammers named a strong starting eleven for the visit of ex-Hammer Stephen Purches’ Cherries to Rush Green. Leo Chambers returned from an extended break on the sidelines to partner Emmanual Onariase at the back, whilst Joe Powell and Nathan Mavila added pace on the wings to support Brown through the middle alone.
It was the second match appearance in as many days for Nasha, Brown, Mavila and named substitute Jaanai Gordon, who all got vital minutes under their belt for Slaven Bilic’s first team in their 0-0 draw away to Charlton Athletic on Saturday afternoon.
After five minutes, Harry Cornick caused the first scare of the game when he broke through the Hammers backline, shrugged off Onariase’s last ditch attempt to halt the striker and fired at goal. Luckily for the Hammers, Howes was out quickly and stood his ground well to make the save.
But it was the home side who opened the scoring on 22 minutes. The Hammers passing play again caused Bournemouth all sorts of problems. The ball found it’s way into the feet of Brown, who fired an unstoppable low shot firmly past Holmes and into the bottom right corner of the net.
West Ham’s goal gave the team some added confidence and they came close to adding a second shortly after. The visitors were struggling to clear the danger from their own penalty box and when left back Borg fired a powerful low cross into the danger area, the Cherries were thankful to Hammers winger Mavila who sliced his shot clear of danger from close range.
As half time approached, the Hammers blew a golden chance to double their lead. Firstly, Borg escaped down the left and put in a high cross to Powell, but the winger fired wide of the target, before Brown played Mavila through and his shot was tipped over the crossbar.
From the resulting corner, it appeared Onariase was given a push in the back as he went to head into an empty net but nothing was given, although the ball then fell to Makasi and his effort at goal was cleared off the line.
Both sides made changes at half time. For the home side, Chambers and Mavila were replaced by Declan Rice and Noha Sylvestre, while Bournemouth also made a handful of changes.
And the south coast club almost drew level just two minutes into the second half when Cornick chested the ball down for Josh Carmichael who fired over the crossbar.
Just a minute later, some tricky feet from Browne almost allowed him the perfect opportunity to stretch the Hammers lead, but after turning past two defenders, he fired just wide of the near post.
Westley then made his third and fourth change of the afternoon replacing captain Nasha and full back Sam Westley for the energetic Matt Carter and Gordon.
But it was Bournemouth who looked the most likely to score and they came close on the hour mark when Cornick managed to squeeze in behind Onariase and Borg to smash a low shot at goal, but Howes made a fantastic save.
The equaliser came just a minute later though and while the Hammers defence were questioning whether Quigley was offside or not, the Bournemouth man managed to beat Howes and find the bottom corner.
West Ham could have regained their lead on 75 minutes when a defensive mix-up allowed Brown to run clear at Holmes before squaring it to Powell, but his effort was blocked on it’s way into the net.
In the closing minutes, both sides had chances to win the game. Sam Matthews curled a shot well wide from distance, just before Brown was denied a second goal by the assistant referee’s flag as he passed the ball into the back of the net.
Speaking to whufc.com after the game, Academy Manager Terry Westley was delighted with another hardworking performance from the young Hammers players and held a special mention for Chambers on his return from injury.
“I was impressed with what I saw today,” admitted Westley. “Our players have been involved over pre-season in first team fixtures and even European games getting some fantastic experience but this game was more about a realistic challenge of what our players will have to come up against in the U21 Premier League next season.
“Our U21 players have had the opportunity to play in front of the new manager and his staff, along with the exposure that comes from playing in front of big crowds at Upton Park and Colchester, it’s been a great benefit to our players.
“I’m delighted for Leo Chambers especially because in the time I’ve been here, I’ve not seen him play a game yet. He has had 18-20 months out of the game so for him to pull through 45 minutes and come out of it with a smile on his face, it’s a massive boost for him and us as a Club because he is a fantastic player.”
West Ham U21: Howes, Westley (Gordon 60), Onariase, Chambers (Rice 45), Borg, Nasha (Carter 57), Makasi, Browne (Pask 75), Mavila (Sylvestre 45), Powell, J.Brown. Subs not used: T.Brown, Hector-Ingram
*Friday's Development Squad pre-season match at Welling United has been postponed due to pitch maintenance work being carried out at Park View Road.