Halajko: U23s' display shows we’re progressing
A greater element of control last night was indicative of West Ham United U23s’ progress this season, according to lead coach Dmitri Halajko.
Speaking after the U23s defeated West Bromwich Albion U23s 2-0 at the Chigwell Construction Stadium, Halajko cited his team’s much-improved second-half display as an example of the dominant style he wants his players to implement.
After a goalless first half of few clear chances – West Brom coming closest when they struck the post late on – the Hammers were considerably more creative after the break, clinching a hard-earned Premier League 2 Division 2 victory through an Anthony Scully brace.
Some of the football that we played in the second half was some of the best we've played all season.
“In the first half, we weren’t at our best,” Halajko observed. “We were probably fortunate to come in at 0-0. But in the second half we made big, big improvements.
“Some of the football that we played in the second half we felt was some of the best we’ve played all season. It was something we wanted to improve: getting on the ball, putting together some good passing patterns, switching it and hurting the opposition by controlling the ball, controlling possession.
“We started to show more of that in the second half, so we’re progressing well, but we’re still learning and improving.”
Both sides initially struggled to establish any rhythm in a combative game, and Halajko revealed afterwards that he had challenged his players to be more aggressive in the tackle in the second period.
“It was one of the things we spoke about at half-time,” Halajko explained. “We felt we weren’t competing in challenges at a level we were really happy with.
“They were probably winning more balls than we were, so we had a look at ourselves at half-time and identified that was one of the areas we needed to correct if we wanted to get something out of the game.”
The pre-match team news saw U23s regular attacking midfielder Joe Powell named amongst the substitutes for the fixture.
Powell would later enter the action at half-time with the score at 0-0, helping to inspire the victory by assisting both of Scully’s goals – the first with an intricate through-ball, the second with a driving run into the area and a low pull-back into the six-yard area.
“We were initially resting him,” Halajko explained. “Powelly’s played every minute of every game so far this season, so we were concerned he might be getting a little bit tired.
“At half-time we decided it was the right type of game for him. We needed a bit of creativity to unlock their defence, and he came on and did that brilliantly.”
The result also saw the U23s record their second clean sheet within a week, having defeated Valencia ‘B’ 1-0 in the Premier League International Cup on Wednesday.
Halajko again expressed his delight with his defence this week, saying: “We were really happy with the clean sheet. I thought the goalkeeper, Joe [Anang], was excellent, especially in the first half when we really needed him.
“Then to have a 15-year-old ahead of him, Jamal Baptiste, really shows the level of talent that is at the West Ham academy. We’ve got a 15-year-old here that can play Under-23s level football, and help us to get two clean sheets on the bounce.”
The 2-0 victory means the U23s once again move level with Manchester United on points at the top of the Premier League 2 Division 2 table, trailing the league leaders only by virtue of goal difference.
Their next fixture in the league comes at fourth-placed Middlesbrough U23s, whom West Ham will travel to face on Friday evening.