West Ham United U23s midfielder Joe Powell believes a desire to right last season’s wrongs is motivating the team’s excellent current form.
This season’s opening two months have seen Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko’s side record eight wins in nine competitive fixtures – a record which stands in stark contrast to a difficult opening spell to last season’s Premier League 2 campaign, albeit in a different division.
While 2018/19 ended in narrow relegation to Premier League 2 Division 2, the Hammers’ U23s are currently flying in all 2019/20 competitions, top of the league by three points and with opening-day wins in both the Leasing.com Trophy and Premier League International Cup under their belts.
We've relished every opportunity and every challenge, and managed to overcome them.
“Last year we didn’t have a good start to the season,” Powell admitted. “All the boys, we sat down before the start of this new season and spoke about it, together as a squad, and said there’s no room for those errors again.
“From the very start of pre-season we had a meeting and we just took it to heart. Every game we’ve taken as it comes. We’ve relished every opportunity and every challenge, and managed to overcome them.
“Sometimes we’ve needed a little bit of a lift, a little bit of a kick, but when we’ve had the confidence to get on the ball and play, that flows through to everyone.”
One particularly impressive aspect of the U23s’ current unbeaten run has been their consistency in times of rotating personnel.
While playmaker Powell has been a fixture in midfield this season – having started Sunday’s 4-2 win against Sunderland, he has appeared in all nine competitive games – coach Halajko has regularly shuffled his pack so far this season, with several players also departing on loan or for international duty.
Powell is pleased that each player has made an impact on the squad when granted the opportunity, citing several recent examples.
“We know that everyone needs to be ready,” he said. “For example, Bernardo [Rosa] played against Valencia ‘B’ and did really well when Conor [Coventry] was away on international duty.
“Conor then came back and slotted nicely back into the team, and when the opportunity obviously arrived for me to make an impact [at half-time against West Brom], I took it.
“Even our young players like [centre-back] Jamal Baptiste have played brilliantly for us. We give him a lot of praise – born in 2003, 15-years-old – and has been playing next to players he’s never played with before!”
As for how far this current unbeaten run can stretch, with trips to the likes of Cheltenham, Stoke and Swansea to come in the October, Powell is optimistic that his teammates can rise to the challenge once again.
“It’s always a challenge playing those sorts of teams,” Powell smiled.
“They’re long journeys, which sometimes means staying overnight - but hopefully we can rise to it and just keep getting the three points.”
West Ham’s development squad’s next fixture comes in the Leasing.com Trophy, when they travel to Whaddon Road to take on Cheltenham Town on Tuesday 8 October.
The young Hammers then resume their Premier League 2 Division 2 campaign at Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium on the evening of Monday 21 October, with kick-off at 7pm.