Johnson: U23s can negate Valencia threat

Ben Johnson against Newport

West Ham United U23s defender Ben Johnson sees no reason why his side can’t sustain their remarkable unbeaten run when they host Valencia ‘B’ this evening.

Having avoided defeat in all 12 of their fixtures so far under lead coach Dmitri Halajko, the Hammers host Valencia at the Chigwell Construction Stadium in Dagenham looking to maintain their fine run of form.

The fixture kicks-off the 2019/20 Premier League International Cup for both teams, the exciting competition that allows squads from Category One academies the chance to test themselves against some of Europe’s most prodigious young talent.

West Ham can expect to face just that in the form of Champions League club Valencia’s hot prospects, whose squad for the match includes the likes of highly-rated French teenager Noha Ndombasi, promising 23-year-old winger Alfred Planas, and 21-year-old La Masia product Adrià Guerrero.

Nevertheless Johnson, who has played a leading role at the heart of the U23s’ defence this season, believes their current momentum speaks volumes of a side with sufficient character and consistency to overcome the challenge.

We've got to push on and build on our results. There's no point winning last week and then not playing in the same way this week.

Ben Johnson

He said: “It’s going to be a great fixture. It’s at home, and they’re bringing their ‘B’ side. It’s not their Under-23s, it’s their reserves, so it’ll be a very tough game.

“Last week [against Newport County in the Trophy], we were 4-1 down at half-time away from home - but we won 5-4. Not many teams out there are capable of doing that.

“We’ve got to push on and build on our results. There’s no point winning last week and then not playing in the same way this week. We’ll get our heads down, focus, and set our eyes on the Valencia game – and hopefully we can win it. There’s no reason why we can’t sustain this run.”

Last week’s sensational comeback victory against Newport came off the back of West Ham making a number of changes to their starting line-up.

According to Johnson, however, the determination on display that night courses throughout the entirety of the squad – as well as the instructions of coach Halajko himself.

“With the international call-ups going away, we knew Newport would be a big challenge,” Johnson admitted. 

“A lot of young players came in, but even though they’re young, nobody was going into the game thinking about that. The more experienced boys and I – me, [Anthony] Scully, [Joe] Powelly, [Daniel] Kempy, Alfie [Lewis] – are always optimistic.

“Dmitri got us in at half-time and just changed everything through what he was saying. He changed our perspective on it, saying that momentum is so big in our game. It was important that we just had to play our game, and when we did that in the second half, we won the match.”

Ben Johnson and West Ham U21s at Newport

At just 19-years-old, Johnson is already a seasoned campaigner at U23s level, having made 38 appearances for the development squad so far, as well as a first-team debut away at Manchester City last season.

In Valencia ‘B’, the defender is anticipating a very technically gifted opposition but believes West Ham also possess the qualities necessary to win the game.

“All their players are going to be comfortable on the ball, from the goalkeeper to the centre-forward,” he continued.

“They’re going to be playing a lot of one-twos, a lot of two-touch play, in possession. They’ll try and keep the ball, so there’ll be times during the match where we’ll have to negate that and show our physicality at times. 

“The front four we have this season, including [Anthony] Scully up there are doing extremely well, and hopefully that continues tonight too. We’ll just try to enjoy the occasion and win the game.”

After tonight, West Ham U23s’ next fixture is in the Premier League 2 Division 2 at home to West Bromwich Albion U23s on Monday 16 September. Kick-off at the Chigwell Construction Stadium is at 7pm.

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