Foxes too strong for youthful U18s

West Ham United U18s closed their season with a 2-0 defeat by Leicester City at Little Heath on Saturday.
The final-day loss saw the Hammers, who fielded no less than five U15 schoolboys during the course of the match, finish sixth in the Barclays U18 Premier League Tier Two table.
After a strong opening 40 minutes, a mistake in the midfield by West Ham midfielder Noha Sylvestre allowed Leicester to break forward and take the lead through Harvey Barnes’ goal.
The Hammers tried to fight back in the second half against their older opposition, but Foxes substitute Admiral Muskwe confirmed the result by doubling the visitors lead with the final kick of the season.
After Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat at home Reading, U18s coach Mark Phillips made three changes to his starting line-up. Alex Pike, Emmanual Onariase – away with the first team at Aston Villa – and Grady Diangana all missed out, allowing Phillips to give 14-year-old trio Mason Barrett, Ben Wells and Alfie Lewis their first starts at U18 level.
At the other end of the experience scale, goalkeeper Sam Howes captained the Hammers on his 54th appearance for the youth team, while Oscar Borg and Joe Powell joined another U15 star in Idris Kanu in attack.
To further lower the average age of the squad, Phillips’ substitutes’ bench was made up of goalkeeper Clarke Bogard and more 14-year-olds in Malyk Hamilton and Korrey Henry.
The Hammers came out the blocks positively and caused the Leicester backline several problems from set pieces. Winger Powell is known for his crossing ability so was placed on free-kick and corner duty, but the visiting defence dealt with his whipped crosses into the penalty area.
It was Leicester that went to closest in the opening stages, though, when Vashon Neufville gave away possession on the edge of the box, giving Foxes striker Daniel Rowe the time and space to fire just wide of the post.
Down the other end, Lewis’ tricky feet enabled him to skip through the Leicester midfield before feeding Powell, who fired low at Max Smith-Vernam.
With 42 minutes of the clock, the visitors took the lead. Sylvestre attempted to switch the ball to the opposite wing, but his pass was intercepted by King. The Foxes player beat Ross Elsom inside the penalty area and crossed low to Barnes, who slid the ball into the back of the net.
As half-time approached, the Hammers produced one more effort on goal. Powell’s corner was headed straight back to him on the right wing and, after cutting in, his bending effort was just tipped over the bar by Smith-Vernam.
In the early stages of the second half, the visitors looked like they had finally gained control over the young Hammers and were starting to pass the ball around the pitch smoothly. Defenders Elliott Percival and Cedric Kipre both found themselves in advanced positions and tested Howes in the the West Ham goal.
Phillips then introduced his two U15 substitutes into the action. Hamilton replaced Browne, who was playing his second game since returning from a long-term injury, while Henry replaced Lewis in the centre of midfield.
The Hammers tried to fight back and grab an equaliser but it was Leicester who were to score the second goal of the game and secure the three points for themselves.
It was substitute Muskwe who retrieved the ball to feet inside and after being given far too much room to turn, he placed the ball confidently past Howes and into the corner of the net.
With the season’s fixtures now all completed by Phillips’ side, the Hammers finished in sixth place in the Barclays U18 Premier League Tier Two Play-Off Stage with seven points from their seven fixtures. Prior to the play-off stages, West Ham finished the regular season in sixth place, with 32 points from their 22 Barclays U18 Premier League South fixtures.
The Hammers will now take a squad away to the HTFC Citibank Soccer Sevens in Hong Kong at the end of this month. It will be the fourth time that the club have sent a squad the tournament. In both 2008 and 2009, the Hammers finished as runners-up before winning the Plate competition in 2012.

Among the squad selected for the tournament are highly-rated winger Djair Parfitt-Williams, striker Jordan Brown and Saturday’s substitute goalkeeper Bogard.
U18s: Howes, Barrett, Elsom, Wells, Neufville, Browne (Hamilton), Sylvestre, Lewis (Henry), Borg, Kanu, Powell
Subs not used: Bogard