Young Hammers to fill free weekend with Derby friendly
West Ham United’s scholars may be without an U18 Premier League Southern Division fixture until the visit of Aston Villa on Saturday 23 February, but that does not mean they will be sitting around doing nothing.
Instead, Mark Phillips and Jack Collison have arranged a pair of challenging friendly matches, starting with a trip to Northern Division title-chasers Derby County this weekend, followed by a visit to Youth Alliance outfit Burton Albion.
The Hammers, who sit fifth in their own table after back-to-back 2-0 wins over Swansea City and Norwich City, will be given a stern test by a Derby side which has lost just two league matches out of 13 and was narrowly beaten by Manchester City in the FA Youth Cup fifth round last week.
And Collison said he and Phillips will use the game to not only keep their regular starters match-sharp, but also to give players returning from injury opportunities to stake their own claims to be involved against Villa.
We’ll be treating it as a proper game and obviously picking the team that deserves to play
“We’ve got a little bit of a break from the league, which is a bit disappointing,” said the lead U17 coach and former West Ham midfielder. “Obviously we had our game called-off last weekend against Fulham, so the next two weeks we’ve arranged two friendlies against Derby and Burton.
“It’s a real good opportunity to give some players who are coming back from injury some much-needed minutes and obviously give them the chance to force their way into the team for our next league match.
“It will be a really good test because Derby are strong, did well in the FA Youth Cup and sit in third place in the U18 Premier League Northern Division, so we won’t be going up there looking to take this game lightly. We’ll be treating it as a proper game and obviously picking the team that deserves to play.
“It comes at a really good time to welcome back some of the boys who’ve been out for a little while, the likes of Louie Watson, a second-year scholar and fantastic player, so it’s great to see him back.
“Anouar El Mhassani is back in, as is Harrison Ashby, and Lennon Peake is not too far away, so we’re welcoming quite a few bodies back, which is obviously great as it creates the competition for places we want.
“The boys have been really putting the work in on the training ground so we can’t fault their effort, their attitude or their focus. They’re really putting it in and wanting to get better and they’re in a good place at the moment.
“Hopefully we can continue to push on between now and the end of the season, with the twin aims of giving the younger players as many minutes as we can, while also finishing as high as we can in the Southern Division table as possible, with some of the more senior boys pushing their way into the U23 setup.”