West Ham United Under-18s fell to a 5-1 defeat at U18 Premier League South leaders Fulham on a chilly Saturday morning at Motspur Park.
Kevin Keen’s side were perhaps unlucky to be on the end of such a harsh scoreline, with the hosts capitalising on several spells of dominance to clinically take the game beyond their reach.
The junior Hammers started the match with no shortage of energy or enthusiasm having already overcome a tricky opening set of league fixtures, but it was Fulham who took the lead inside ten minutes, striker Jay Stansfield glancing Conor McAvoy’s cross into the far corner.
Veron Parkes then twice came close to hitting back for West Ham: his toe-poked finish deflecting wide off goalkeeper George Wickens’ legs, before having a dipping shot from range turned around the post.
After 25 minutes, West Ham spurned a great opportunity to draw level when right-back Harrison Ashby surged forwards and won a penalty; Kai Corbett’s kick was well struck, but Wickens produced another excellent save to his right to deny the winger an equaliser.
With ten minutes to go until half-time, Fulham began to demonstrate their quality, with Hammers goalkeeper Kristztian Hegyi forced into two fantastic top-corner saves to deny Stansfield’s turn and shot and Jonathon Page’s hooked volley.
Moments later, however, and the hosts had control of the match, a corner from the right receiving two ricochets on the way to Stansfield at the back post, who had the simple task of converting from merely yards out. The former Exeter front-man would then complete a first-half hat-trick five minutes later, darting between the Hammers' lines before calmly slotting past Hegyi.
Parkes would again threaten from range before the whistle, but to no avail, as West Ham went into half-time with a 3-0 deficit; a harsh reflection, perhaps, on their performance, but also an indication of just how clinical Fulham, and Stansfield in particular, had been.
Keen subsequently switched to a more attacking formation at the interval, and West Ham enjoyed their best spell of the match shortly afterwards, Ashby’s mishit cross clipping the bar moments before Veron Parkes flicked home Amadou Diallo’s accurate cross from the left.
Despite the Hammers’ greater intent, however, Fulham would kill off the game as a contest with 15 minutes remaining when Page’s accurate cross found McAvoy at the back post with a free header.
Further gloss was added with four minutes left, when Stansfield pounced on a rebound from close range to claim his fourth, and Fulham's fifth, of the match.
“I think all credit to Fulham – they’re the best side we’ve faced so far this season," West Ham U18s Lead Coach Keen said afterwards. "After they scored their first goal they really grew in confidence and played some good football.
“I emphasised afterwards the fact that we have to keep working together as a team. You can’t win football matches as an individual, you have to do your bit for a team, and I just emphasised that that’s really important – Fulham did that really well.
“Having said that, our lads kept on going. We tried to get ourselves back in the game by changing formation. I thought our goalkeeper, Hegyi, was outstanding. It wasn’t quite our day today, but sometimes you can learn from those days as academy players."