West Ham United U23s deserved a better result for their display at Old Trafford, according to Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko.
In an end-to-end match between the two early pace-setters of the Premier League 2 Division 2, West Ham thought they had claimed a memorable victory when Anthony Scully put them in front with just nine minutes remaining, only to be pegged back by Manchester United with only a minute left on the clock and ultimately draw 2-2.
Earlier, the hosts had initially taken the lead after 20 minutes, but Halajko’s side grew into the game and deservedly equalised just before the interval with an incisive Nathan Holland run and strike.
Halajko reflected: “It was a top, high-level game and a great advert for the league, with two very good teams playing great football. We felt that we were better than them in the second half, and we probably should’ve made it count a little bit more.
“I think by the way we played you could see we were going for all three points. The whole time, at 1-1, we were the team pushing to get the winner – we didn’t sit back at any point in the game.
“We’re gutted that it just slipped through our fingers, but our performance, particularly in midfield, maybe deserved a bit more.”
With both sides entering the match with perfect records in the league, the stage was set at Old Trafford for an exciting contest – and, backed by a vocal home crowd, so it proved.
Halajko named an unchanged line-up for the match except for his striker; Scully replaced Oladapo Afolayan, whose loan move to Mansfield Town was announced yesterday.
Scully duly rewarded his manager’s faith with the equalising goal, and Halajko was delighted to see the 19-year-old get his name on the scoresheet at Old Trafford, emphasising the options he possesses in his squad.
He said: “Anthony was excellent. All of our players that don’t start, or are on the bench, train so hard and work so hard that they’re always ready to come in.
“It’s a squad game – it’s not a team game, it’s a squad game – and it’s always pleasing when someone comes in and takes their opportunity like he did.”
The 2-2 draw keeps both sides level on points at the top of the table and preserves West Ham U23s' unbeaten run this season, and Halajko spoke with pride of his players’ achievements this week.
“It’s the kind of game we want to play in. We want to play in big games, at big stadiums, to test ourselves, and we got that today," he said.
“It’s been a good week: Conor [Coventry]’s played a bit for the first-team midweek, and now he’s managed to play at Old Trafford at the end of the week. Ben Johnson has done the same, so experiences like that are just going to develop us and push us further.
"We really felt that we could win it. We wanted to go toe-to-toe with Manchester United at Old Trafford, and we did."
West Ham U23s’ next fixture sees them travel for an EFL Trophy match at Rodney Parade on Wednesday, where they’ll hope to follow in the footsteps of the first team this week by beating Newport County AFC.