Young Hammers hoping to make it three-in-a-row
Jack Collison says West Ham United’s youngsters are hitting their stride at both ends of the pitch as they prepare to face Fulham at Motspur Park on Saturday.
The Hammers have scored 2-0 wins in each of their last two U18 Premier League South fixtures, defeating Norwich City and Swansea City at Little Heath to move up to fifth in the table.
Lead U17s coach Collison was delighted to see his team keep clean sheets in both matches, while leading scorer Veron Parkes was on target twice to take his personal tally to seven for the season.
Our centre-backs Josh Okotcha and Jamal Baptiste have been outstanding in the last two games, so that’s great and long may it continue
“Looking ahead to the game on Saturday, we face Fulham and they are always a good side at U18 level,” he began. “They’ve normally got good technical players and like to play attacking football.
“We’re going into the game off the back off keeping two clean sheets in our previous two league games – something we haven’t done often enough this season – so we’ve been really pleased with our defensive unit, our defenders and for our goalkeepers.
“There is such a big focus on attacking play and scoring goals in football these days, but it is always great when you’re producing the goods at the other end, too.
“In particular, our centre-backs Josh Okotcha and Jamal Baptiste have been outstanding in the last two games, so that’s great and long may it continue.
“Attacking-wise, we’ve been training well and playing well, too. It’s been good to see Veron Parkes back amongst the goals and obviously Manny Longelo with such a fantastic goal against Swansea.
“It was a bit disappointing to have a weekend off after building up that momentum, but the positive was that the boys had some time to recover and we’re ready to go again on Saturday at Fulham.”
Baptiste is one of a number of schoolboys who have featured regularly for the U18s already this season, while fellow U16s Jayden Fevrier, Amadou Diallo and Josh Wilson-Esbrand have also caught the eye.
With eight league matches still to play, Collison and lead U18s coach Mark Phillips will now seek to involve even more U15 and U16 players in the youth team as they assess which of them will be awarded full-time scholarships in the summer.
“The 23s play Arsenal on Monday, so we are hoping a few of the second-year scholars will be up with them, looking to push their way into that team now because, as we go into the spring, there is a big focus on continuing to try to integrate the Under-15s and 16s who are doing well into the 18s on a more regular basis,” Collison confirmed.
“The same can be said of the first years, some of whom have not had as much game time as they’d have liked pre-Christmas.
“There is a real opportunity now for the younger players now to step up and claim a regular starting spot. The great thing is that there is loads of competition for places all over the pitch.
“The sports science and physios have been working tirelessly to shorten our injury list and it looks like we’ve got there with the likes of Louie Watson, Harrison Ashby and Anouar El Mhassani all coming back and looking to force their way into the team.”