The goal for every member of a youth development squad is straightforward enough: to better yourself with every experience.
Under Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko, West Ham United’s U23 side are doing just that as they learn from each and every game, according to Academy of Football starlet Harrison Ashby.
The 18-year-old full-back has made an impressive transition to U23 level this season, having been called upon at the last-minute in a memorable competitive debut at centre-back against Valencia ‘B’ in September, keeping a clean sheet.
The Scotland U19 international had impressed many, particularly with his attacking instincts, in a friendly at Brentford ‘B’ the previous month, but the manner in which he went showcased defensive composure against technically-proficient opposition proved a beacon of the 18-year-old’s raw potential.
Ashby has made a further five U23s appearances since that victory, including starting at right-back and winning a penalty with a rampaging run in the eventual 3-1 loss in the Leasing.com Trophy at Exeter City last week.
While the result did not turn out in the junior Hammers’ favour on that occasion, Ashby is confident that he and his teammates are garnering more experience with every such test.
“Experience is a big thing in football,” he said. “That can be a massive factor in any game, and we’re getting more all the time as a team.
“Exeter was a difficult one to take after such a long journey, but it was men’s football and against Football League opposition, so it was a big learning curve for all of us.
“We just need to learn from the experience. Men’s football is very different to U23s and Academy football, and we’re all learning every day in that changing room.”
While it’s sometimes been a lot of pressure, I quite like it because I play well under pressure – I relish the challenge
The Hammers’ U23s side continue what has been an imperious Premier League 2 Division 2 campaign thus far against Aston Villa on Friday evening.
While the side are no longer involved in the Leasing.com Trophy, they currently enjoy a three-point advantage at the top of the division, and have only failed to win one game from ten so far this season – a draw with second-placed Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Having risen through the ranks at the Academy, Ashby has been pleased to have seen regular action with both the U18 and U23 squads this season, relishing the challenge of stepping up when required.
“It’s been good,” he said. “While it’s sometimes been a lot of pressure, I quite like it because I play well under pressure – I relish the challenge.
“A game like Exeter shows us how far we, as players, need to go to get where we need to be. We need to be ready for those demands, so that’s a massive learning experience for all of us, and we want to make the most of it.”
The last time the young Hammers suffered defeat in domestic competition, they went on to record back-to-back 4-0 and 4-1 league wins at Stoke City and Norwich City respectively.
Displaying the sort of industrious, determined attitude which has typified the Academy of Football’s sides so far this season, Hammers fans can rest assured Ashby and his teammates will be doing everything they can to bounce back from last week’s game in style.
West Ham United U23s and Aston Villa U23s kick-off at the Chigwell Construction Stadium at 7pm, with free admission for men's Season Ticket Holders and priced at £5 Adults and £3 Concessions otherwise.