Liam Manning says his players will learn from the experience of West Ham United U23s’ 2-1 Premier League 2 Division 1 defeat by Chelsea on Saturday.
The Hammers fought back to level after falling behind to an early penalty through Joe Powell’s spot-kick at Chigwell Construction Stadium before going close through centre forward Sean Adarkwa and wide attackers Grady Diangana and Bernardo Rosa.
However, the hosts’ momentum was slowed six minutes after the break when Tunji Akinola was shown the red card for the second of two bookable offences, and the Blues took advantage to score through Charlie Brown midway through the second half.
It’s a learning curve but we were delighted with how they responded, to be fair
“Overall, we went in at half-time and we were pleased with how we’d done,” said co-manager Manning. “We’d created some good chances and I thought we’d controlled it in terms of possession in the first half.
“The message was to go out and build on that and obviously the red card changed it but in terms of what we were about as a group, even with ten men, we were pleased with that and how they worked, how they competed and how they stuck together.
“It’s a learning curve but we were delighted with how they responded, to be fair.”
Manning and Steve Potts opted for a new 3-4-3 formation, with Ben Johnson and Joe Powell providing the width and Rosa and Diangana tucked in in support of Adarkwa. The plan worked well, with 17-year-old forwards Rosa and Adarkwa both impressing and Diangana winning the Hammers’ early penalty.
“We changed the shape slightly today and went three at the back, which obviously allowed Bernardo and Grady to come inside the pitch a little bit,” Manning explained.
“We had three Under-18s out there [in Rosa, Adarkwa and Ajibola Alese] and I thought they all performed quite well. It was Sean’s first start for the Under-23s and I thought he was a handful and he had a really good chance in the box which he didn’t work his feet out on, but the young ones who came in did well.”
The U23s will have not time to dwell on Saturday’s disappointment as they return to training on Sunday morning in preparation for Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy tie at Exeter City.
Having lost at Bristol Rovers last week, the young Hammers will need a win at the EFL League Two high-fliers to give themselves a chance of qualifying from Southern Group D.
And Manning says the busy fixture list is just what his squad needs to prepare them for senior football.
“It’s more like a first-team programme, which is ultimately what we’re getting the lads ready for, be that a loan or going into our first team, playing that Saturday-Wednesday, then the following weekend,” he observed.
“It’s a really good challenge physically in terms of how they look after themselves off the pitch. We’re in again on Sunday and getting ready to play against Exeter.
“We went down there three years ago in my first season at the club and played them in the Premier League Cup and they’ll play some good stuff and it’ll be another challenge for us in terms of going again. Ultimately, we’ll focus on our game and getting better at the things we need to do.”