Dmitri Halajko: Cheltenham trip will test our progress

Dmitri Halajko

Tuesday night’s Trophy trip to League Two high flyers Cheltenham Town could prove the perfect barometer for West Ham United U21s’ progress this season, according to Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko.

The former Leicester City and Norwich City coach has got off to a near-perfect start at the helm of the Hammers’ development squad this season, failing to win in only one competitive game thus far.

Such a fine string of results sees West Ham sit three points clear of nearest challengers Manchester United at the top of Premier League 2 Division 2, with a 16-match unbeaten run – including pre-season friendlies – behind them.

The junior Hammers have also claimed three points in their opening Trophy and Premier League International Cup group stage matches: 5-4 and 1-0 victories against Newport and Valencia ‘B’ respectively.

It's an opportunity to play against a team that are doing really well in their league... It's a top game for us to see where we are at in our levels of development.

Dmitri Halajko

Halajko’s charges this week travel to Whaddon Road for their second game of the Trophy campaign, where they will face an in-form Cheltenham Town outfit.

Led by fans’ favourite Michael Duff, the Robins have won four of their last five matches and sit fifth in the League Two table, but suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat at Exeter City in their first game in this competition. 

West Ham’s coach believes the level of experience within the opposition squad will provide the kind of acid test from which he can glean a lot about his players.

“It’s going to be another opportunity for them to play against seasoned pros,” Halajko observed. “It’s an opportunity to play against men, against a team that are doing really well in their league. It's a top game for us to see where we are at in our levels of development.”

West Ham U23s vs Sunderland U23s

Nine days will have passed since West Ham held off a spirited Sunderland fightback to win their last Premier League 2 Division 2 fixture.

Speaking after the 4-2 victory, Halajko discussed the need to make every moment of preparation count. 

“We’ll be training hard,” he said. “We’ll only schedule maybe two days off in that period, so most of that time will be spent on the training pitch. 

“It’ll be a little bit about tidying up some areas from recent matches that we want to get better at, and then a little bit of looking at Cheltenham to see what we can try to exploit in that game.”

As for upcoming fixtures, Halajko’s side face a tricky-looking spell of three games in nine days at the tail end of the month.

The side’s current league form will be tested by trips to Stoke and Norwich on 21 and 25 October respectively, before the Hammers host Wolfsburg ‘B’ in the Premier League International Cup on 30 October.

Halajko and his team, as always, will relish the challenge.

“The games are coming thick and fast and we want that,” he declared. “We don’t mind whether we’re home or away. Because there aren’t big crowds, it doesn’t sway things too much, so we won’t be looking at the away games any different to our home matches.

“Whether we’re home or away, we’ll always try to be the more dominant team. We’ll be going to try and win those games.”

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