Halajko: U21s match ‘Roy of the Rovers stuff’
West Ham United U21s Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko was delighted with his players’ never-say-die attitude against Newport County.
Trailing 4-1 at half-time to their hosts at Rodney Parade, West Ham scored four times in a remarkable second-half display which showcased their resilience, composure and belief in their own ability.
The result also saw the young Hammers open their Leasing.com Trophy 2019/20 campaign with what, at one stage, appeared to be an unlikely three points, in turn maintaining the development squad's unbeaten run so far this season.
Halajko admits that his side were involved in a special game in South Wales on Wednesday night, and told his players to cherish their extraordinary achievement.
He said: “The mood in the dressing room at full-time is a lot better than it was at half-time!
“The lads are extremely happy - and they should be, they deserved it. There aren’t many nights in anyone’s football career where you’re 4-1 down at half-time and you end up winning 5-4 - that’s Roy of the Rovers type stuff.
“I’m proud of their bravery in the second half; the bravery to come out at 4-1 down after playing so badly in the first half, to then come out and be brave to get on the ball, be brave to take the game to them, and to have the spirit to believe.”
West Ham were facing a team in form in League Two side Newport, who sit second and are also thus far unbeaten in their league.
The Exiles'’ greater experience told in the first half, as they recovered from West Ham’s first-minute strike to take a commanding lead into the interval.
But Halajko always had confidence that his side had the ability – and the mentality – to recover from such a challenging situation and salvage the game.
“You sum that game up as an awful first half for us, and an outstanding second half,” he said. “That’s how the game panned out.
“We were really disappointed at half-time in ourselves. We didn’t do ourselves justice, but we still felt that if we got to the level we were capable of, we could get something out of the game, and we managed to do that.
“Lots of things were said at half-time. We all looked at ourselves, and we all took responsibility.
“The first thing we spoke about was the acceptance that we weren’t good enough, and the next was the realisation that we’re so much better than that - and then we spoke about what we were going to do in the second half to show it.”
Despite the outstanding result, Halajko also identified one area the team could improve on, off the back of the see-saw match.
He said: “We want to work on set plays. We conceded two really, really soft goals from set plays tonight.
“It’s something that we talked about before the game that we wanted to try and nullify, because we knew they were a big strength for Newport, but we didn’t achieve that objective, so that’s certainly one of the things we’re looking at.”
Despite the victory, Halajko is not prepared to rest on his laurels, referencing the development squad’s next fixture – at home to Valencia ‘B’ in the Premier League International Cup next week – in his closing remarks.
He said: “The lads enjoyed tonight, and they deserve that.
"But now, we need to get back on it – and be ready for Valencia.”