For defender Harrison Ashby, West Ham United U23s’ 1-0 victory over Valencia ‘B’ on Wednesday evening was a night that will live long in the memory.
The Academy starlet, who regularly features at right-back for the U18s side, was called into the U23s’ starting line-up for the Premier League International Cup fixture shortly before kick-off, when Reece Hannam withdrew through illness.
Ashby duly responded with a dominant performance at the heart of the defence, marking his competitive U23s debut just a day after returning from international duty with Scotland U19s.
“Tonight was unbelievable," he smiled. "It was a very, very hard game. I came back from Scotland U19s duty yesterday at about four in the morning, and then got the call-up today, so I’ve ended up playing about 130 minutes in four days.
“I wasn’t expecting to be playing, but then Reece was feeling ill, so they put me in – and I just had to deal with it, roll my sleeves up and do what I did.”
The Scottish youth international impressed against Valencia ‘B’ in a youthful-looking Hammers back four which also featured 15-year-old Jamal Baptiste and 17-year-old Keenan Appiah-Forson.
Although Ashby admitted he hadn’t initially expected to be involved in the game, he was delighted to overcome his initial nerves to help the side to an impressive victory.
“It was a mixture of emotions: a bit of excitement and a bit of nerves, being called on at the last minute,” he continued. “Then I had to consider I was playing against Valencia ‘B’ for the U23s, and I’m normally an U18s player.
“Valencia were sharp, quick. Their front two were very technically gifted, so it was a tough test for us all. But we did what we did, kept a clean sheet, and we won the game.”
We've just got a great team spirit. A lot of our long unbeaten run is down to that.
The 17-year-old defender was making his second appearance for the U23s this term, having also impressed in a friendly against Brentford ‘B’ last month.
Ashby believes that the fine run of form that Dmitri Halajko’s U23s is in stems from the side’s fantastic morale and array of options within the squad.
He said: “We’re 13 games unbeaten now, so for every game that comes up, everyone’s buzzing, everyone’s excited. There’s no nerves or fear, we’ve just got a great team spirit. A lot of our run is down to that. We’ve also always got a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C in the locker, so we feel well prepared by the coaching staff for every game.
“Personally, I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing, keep on it and maintain the form I’m in, and hopefully I can be involved in more games going forwards.”
The unbeaten U23s’ next fixture sees them return to Premier League 2 Division 2 action at the Chigwell Construction Stadium on Monday 16 September, when they host West Bromwich Albion.