Followers of West Ham United’s U23s have enjoyed a memorable season so far – not only for the team’s results, but also for the thrillingly high drama predicating them.
Lead coach Dmitri Halajko’s players have already developed an impressive ability to snatch victory in unlikely circumstances this campaign, stretching their unbeaten run to 15 games when they scored twice late on in a 4-3 victory away at Middlesbrough.
That result, along with a hard-fought 2-1 turnaround at Newcastle and an extraordinary 5-4 comeback at Newport County in the Leasing.com Trophy – the Hammers were 4-1 down at half-time – is testament to a side determined never to lose sight of emerging victorious.
Regular U23s captain, and Republic of Ireland U21 international, Conor Coventry has been a pillar of the side so far this season, and has his own explanation for their Lazarus-like tendencies.
“Even when we are not playing so well, everyone still believes at the moment that we are going to win,” he said. “We said in the changing room at Middlesbrough that we just didn’t believe that we were going to get beaten – and that belief is massive for us at the moment.
“I don’t think we were at our best in our last game. Maybe it was the long journey, but we just weren’t playing at our best. I think we just had to grind it out and try to dominate the game when we could, and that’s exactly what we did.
“We rode out a tough period, but we knew our quality would get us back in the game and I think we always believed we would win, which was important.”
Everybody's really enjoying this sort-of title race with Manchester United at the moment... it excites all of us and motivates us every week.
Ahead of the visit of Sunderland this Sunday lunchtime, West Ham sit top of the Premier League 2 Division 2 table, three points ahead of their nearest challengers Manchester United.
The Hammers’ record currently stands at five wins and one draw – a 2-2 thriller with Manchester United at Old Trafford – out of six matches played, and Coventry believes such imperious form stems from the U23s relishing the race with the Mancunian side.
“It’s great to be top of the league,” Coventry admitted. “It’s something that, when we sat down at the start of the season, we said we wanted to achieve.
“Everybody’s really enjoying this sort of title race with Manchester United at the moment. To go up against a team like that, with the chance to win the league on the line, is something that excites all of us and motivates us every week.”
Along the way, West Ham U23s have notched up 22 competitive goals already this season, with eight different players making their way onto the scoresheet.
Winger Nathan Holland played a huge role in three of those strikes against Middlesbrough last weekend, scoring a spectacular solo goal and setting up two – including Dan Kemp’s late winner – and Coventry reserved special words of praise for the jet-heeled player.
“Nathan's probably one of the best dribblers that I’ve ever seen when he’s got the ball," he said.
“It’s a pleasure to play with him when he’s playing like that. All the boys up top love playing with him – he’s unselfish and makes chances for them all the time, he’s great to play with.
“As well as him, Alfie Lewis and Joe Powell are getting in there with goals and assists as well. Dan Kemp obviously got the winner against ‘Boro, and Anthony Scully has scored six goals in his last four games and is in top form. Everyone’s getting goals – it’s a real team effort at the moment.”
As for Sunderland, who travel to the Chigwell Construction Stadium to face West Ham on Sunday – kick-off is at mid-day – Coventry is just hoping his side can continue to play like they have in recent weeks.
“We had to deal with the journey last week, so they are going to have to deal with it this time around!” he joked.
“Hopefully if we start fast, we can really take the game away from them and try and win it before they’ve even got to London, so to speak. Our aim is to stay at the top of the league.”
After the visit of Sunderland, West Ham have a nine-day break before travelling to Cheltenham Town on Tuesday 8 October to resume their Leasing.com Trophy campaign.