West Ham United U18s manager Mark Phillips was in philosophical mood after seeing his side beaten 9-0 by Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday morning.
After starting the U18 Premier League Southern Division season with four straight wins, the Hammers followed a narrow defeat at Aston Villa by being overwhelmed by Spurs at a rain-soaked Rush Green.
Amazingly, West Ham edged the opening 45 minutes and missed a number of decent chances before falling behind to two goals in added time at the end of the first half.
After the break it was a different game as Tottenham took advantage of a shell-shocked and inexperienced home team featuring three schoolboy starters to run riot with seven further goals.
However, rather than criticise his players, Phillips urged them to learn from the humbling experience and ensure they bounce back with a strong performance in next weekend’s U18 Premier League Cup Group E tie at Blackburn Rovers.
The mark of a good side is how you bounce back from a defeat like that by showing due diligence on the training pitch and getting a good result in your next game
“I think it was a good lesson in clinical finishing, if I’m honest,” he said. “The first half, it sounds amusing to say it now, was a close encounter which could have gone either way and on clear-cut chances, at 0-0 before Tottenham scored, I think we probably shaded it and probably had the two better chances.
“I even felt at half-time, at 2-0, if we had come out on the front foot, we had every chance of getting something from the game but, to be fair to Tottenham, they taught us a lesson in finishing, if I’m honest.
“They scored seven goals in the second half, but I’m not sure they had many more than seven chances, so fair dues to Tottenham, as it was a lesson we have to learn.”
Phillips, coach Jack Collison and Academy Director Terry Westley watched on as Spurs ran away with the game and all three demanded more intensity and concentration from their players throughout, urging them to get closer to their opponents and not allow them time and space to play out from the back.
When it worked, the approach saw the young Hammers – with three schoolboys in the starting XI – win back possession high up the pitch and create chances but, when it did not, Spurs quickly broke up the pitch and threatened Joseph Anang’s goal.
As the confidence drained from his players, Phillips admitted the game simply got away from them.
“We know Tottenham’s style and we know they’ll always try to play out from the ‘keeper and through the back, so we worked a lot in the week on pressing and trying to win the ball back up high which, when we put it into practice as a side, was quite successful.
“But all it takes is one player not to do his job and they get out and, in the second half, that’s what happened on several occasions.
“Tottenham are a good youth team at playing around you but, if you’re one yard off then you’ve got to track back 50 yards, so do that extra bit when it matters and it will save you having to make those yards up elsewhere.”
With the U23s also in Premier League 2 Division 1 action against Chelsea on Saturday, Phillips and Collison were left without the likes of Tunji Akinola, Bernardo Rosa, Sean Adarkwa and Odysseas Spyrides, while schoolboys Joshua Wilson-Esbrand, Jamal Baptiste and striker Amadou Diallo gained invaluable experience at U18 level.
“We had an Under-15 at centre-half, an Under-16 at left-back and another Under-16 playing up front and we actually only had one second-year scholar in the team because of call-ups to the Under-23s and injuries.
“It’s not an excuse because we were well beaten, but the difference between being 17 or 18 and 15 makes a big difference physically when you’re playing against second years.”
Phillips concluded by asking his players to look back on Saturday’s defeat with maturity and reflect, individually and collectively, on what they could have done better, before focusing their efforts on learning from mistakes and putting them right next time they take to the pitch.
“I said to the team after the game that we’ve got Blackburn next week and the mark of a good side is how you bounce back from a defeat like that by showing due diligence on the training pitch and getting a good result in your next game.
“It’s one game, so you have to put it into perspective and you have to take a defeat on the chin, just as you celebrate one victory at a time.”
West Ham United: Anang, Greenidge ©, Baptiste, Wilson-Esbrand, Diallo, Appiah-Forson, Okotcha (Nsumbu 90), Stroud (Hannam 57), Parkes (Peake 66), Longelo, Nebyla
Sub not used: Jinadu (GK)