Dmitri Halajko: It's amazing to be back in action
West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko has expressed his delight at being back in the dugout after his side ran out 3-2 winners over Cambridge United at Little Heath.
Due to last season's early curtailment, the pre-season game was the young Hammers' first match since mid-March, but they hardly missed a beat as goals from Sean Adarkwa, Amadou Diallo and Mesaque Dju secured victory.
The match was split into four 30-minute quarters, allowing the managers of both squads to give plenty of players plenty of minutes ahead of the new league season.
We wanted to test ourselves in pre-season and get some tough fixtures and we knew that Cambridge United would certainly give us that
“It’s amazing to be back!” Halajko told whufc.com. “So much hard work has gone into getting our lads back so early and in such good shape.
"Ricky Martin [Academy Manager] and the whole Academy management team deserve a huge amount of credit for the time and effort that they put in to get us back not only early, but also to get us back safely.”
The U23s produced a battling performance to get the better of the experienced Cambridge side late on in the unique game.
“We’re really pleased with how the boys did,” he continued. “We wanted to test ourselves in pre-season and get some tough fixtures in, and we knew that Cambridge United would certainly give us that.
“We equipped ourselves really well, apart from maybe the second period when we lost our way a touch, but the other three we’re really happy with.”
The young Hammers were boosted by the return of senior Academy players Nathan Trott, Dan Kemp and Ajibola Alese, who are back training with the U23s after successful loan spells last term.
“It’s always nice to have them back," Halajko explained. "The three of them have all gone out on loan and played league football, which is great for them, and now they’ve come back and they can share that experience with some of the younger ones.”
They’re going to take loads from that; they’ve got minutes in their legs and they’ve had loads of learning against hardened pros who have played 200 to 300 games in their careers
The West Ham XI for the final quarter was noticeably less experienced as second-year scholars and first year professionals got their first taste of playing against senior opposition.
“We must have had five or six youth team players play at some point in the game today and it will have probably been their first taste of playing men’s opposition, certainly at that level," Halajko expanded.
“They’re going to take loads from that; they’ve got minutes in their legs and they’ve had loads of learning against hardened pro’s that have played 200 to 300 games in their careers.”
Conor Coventry, Tunji Akinola and Jamal Baptiste were all notable absentees as they continue to train alongside the first team in Scotland, and Halajko was pleased that the three players had been afforded such an opportunity.
“We’re really lucky to have a firs-team manager in David who is really interested in youth, invested in youth and looking at our players in the U23s," he said.
"Hopefully the three that have gone up there have impressed and in the coming months there are opportunities for more.”
West Ham United U23s continue their pre-season programme with a trip to Leyton Orient on Wednesday 26 September. Kick-off is at 7pm. The match is strictly behind closed doors.