Rice excels during first U21 start

Declan Rice is hoping to break into the Dev Squad side on a regular basis
Sixteen year old defender Declan Rice staked his claim for a regular place in the Development Squad’s starting XI following a commanding display against Brighton & Hove Albion U21.

Playing alongside Stephen Hendrie at the heart of defence, the pair worked well together, limiting the Seagulls to a limited number of chances.

Having made his first U21 appearance away at Arsenal, the Republic of Ireland U17 international went one step further by making his full debut.

Summarising his thoughts after completing such a milestone, Rice said: “I was very happy with my performance; given it was my first start for the U21s, but more importantly the team performance was excellent.

“I was a bit nervous at first, the experienced players like Josh Cullen and Lewis Page really helped me, I think I got better as the game went on, and I really enjoyed it.

“I’m very happy with the way I’m playing at the moment, it’s important that I keep playing well and hopefully tonight I showed Terry that I am ready to keep playing for the U21s.”

Another youngster who caught the eye was 15-year-old striker Idris Kanu. Still a schoolboy, Academy manager Terry Westley revealed that the forward had had to miss his last few classes in order to play.

For Rice, Kanu’s impressive performance came as no surprise as the two of them have progressed through the Academy of Football together.   

The defender-come-midfielder said: “I thought considering Idris is an U16 player, he did very well. It’s a major step up, there’s a big improvement from U18 to U21 football, and he coped with that very well.”

Westley’s faith in electing to field a young side was rewarded as the Hammers recorded a deserved 2-1 win, thanks to goals from Martin Samuelsen and Josh Cullen.  

Now with two wins in three games, Rice is hoping to maintain their run of form when they face Derby County in just under a fortnight’s time.

“Tonight just showed how much of a team we are, we had to grind out the last ten minutes, but we stuck together and really worked hard.

“The win is great for confidence, and hopefully we’ll take that into our next game against Derby County in two weeks’ time.”