Dmitri Halajko: Stoke win was our best yet
West Ham United U23s’ performance at Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium tonight was their best of the season so far, according to Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko.
Facing a Potters side unbeaten in Premier League 2 Division 2 since August, the development squad raced into a 2-0 lead after eleven minutes through a Joe Powell wonder goal and a powerful drive by Nathan Holland.
Halajko’s men then showed impressive discipline to restrict an experienced Stoke U23s side - marshalled by experienced campaigners such as Ryan Woods, Tommy Smith and Jordan Cousins - to few clear-cut chances.
The Hammers then closed the game out in the second half through clinical finishes by Holland and Anthony Scully, and Halajko was effusive in his praise for the display afterwards.
“I think that’s our best performance of the season,” he said. “They’d won four games in a row, they were joint second in the league. We knew they had an experienced team – they had over 500 league appearances on the pitch with the three senior players they had in, so a real tough test.
“I thought we controlled possession really well, we were clinical when we needed to be, and kept a clean sheet through our hard work and great defending.
“We controlled the game with and without the ball. When they had the ball, we had a nice, compact shape and were hard to break down. When we had the ball we were nice and calm. We had long spells on it, and showed real moments of quality when we needed it.”
I think the lads showed today that they'd learned from that experience... we came out in the second half and showed calm, cool heads and good quality football.
The impressive display came off the back of the team’s first competitive defeat of the season – a 4-3 reverse to Cheltenham Town in the Leasing.com Trophy just under a fortnight ago.
Halajko was pleased with the lessons learned from that evening at Whaddon Road, and believed they helped motivate his side’s excellent Monday evening performance.
“It’s pleasing for us, because in the last game against Cheltenham, we were 3-1 up at half-time, and then in the second half we got overawed a little bit,” he explained.
“I think the lads showed today that they’d learned from that experience. We were in a similar situation at half-time in this game, and we came out in the second half, and showed calm, cool heads and good quality football.”
Halajko was also full of praise for his youthful defence, which featured full-backs Bernardo Rosa and Emmanuel Longelo – normally more offensive players – and Sam Caiger, usually a full-back but playing centrally alongside Gonçalo Cardoso.
“We had a really young back four, all teenagers,” Halajko said. “Some of them haven’t been playing in defensive roles that often.
“Probably three out of the four were slightly out of position from what they would normally play, and to keep a clean sheet and to limit shots on goal as well shows the improvement they’re making as a back four that’s so young. They’re learning really fast and developing really well.”
As for Powell’s opening strike – an opportunistic and inspired 35-yard lob - Halajko smiled: “That’s his second time this season where he’s lobbed the keeper from well near the halfway line. He did it in pre-season against Anderlecht, a little bit further out actually.
“He’s got that technical ability, so it wasn’t too much of a shock really because we know he can do it.”
Having maintained their three-point advantage at the top of the league table, West Ham U23s continue their Premier League 2 Division 2 campaign away at Norwich on Friday evening.