West Ham United Under-23s are looking forward to rediscovering their cohesion and kicking on in the second half of the season, according to midfielder Ossama Ashley.
Dmitri Halajko’s side head into the festive break off the back of arguably their two most impressive displays of the Premier League 2 season thus far.
A comprehensive 2-0 victory against Manchester United was the Hammers' first win of the league season, and the U23s had every right to feel aggrieved after a dominant display against Everton ended in a 2-1 defeat.
A final game against Manchester City U23s, set for earlier this week, was postponed as a precautionary measure, but an abundance of positives have presented themselves for the young Hammers in recent weeks, not least the return of summer acquisition Ashley.
We know just how good we are and how good we can be. We’re confident enough to go anywhere and give it our best shot and that’s what we’ll always do
The 20-year-old, who joined from AFC Wimbledon back in September, has been sidelined since early November but made it through 78 minutes of action unscathed last Monday and impressed with a combative and controlled performance.
The result was a game of few chances for the Toffees, aside from the two crucial early West Ham mistakes which allowed them to establish an ultimately insurmountable lead.
West Ham's midfield trio of Keenan Forson, Alfie Lewis and Ashley carved Everton open on numerous occasions in Southport, but the Hammers failed to recover from their early deficit.
“I’ve been back in training a few weeks now,” the tough-tackling 20-year-old said. “I was buzzing to start against Everton last week. I felt like I added something to the team during the game and it’s always good when you come off and you feel like you’ve done that.
“I think the boys played really well, to be honest. Obviously, we made a few key mistakes in the first half that led to Everton getting in front, but the reaction from us was good and to be fair I thought we deserved more from the game.
“The boys were gutted in the changing room afterwards, but I think having looked over the game and analysed it, we can take so much from it. The results aren’t going to go your way every time and we just have to focus on picking ourselves up in the new year.
“We know just how good we are and how good we can be. We’re confident enough to go anywhere and give it our best shot and that’s what we’ll always do."
As a result of his injury, Ashley missed the U23s' match against Leicester at the King Power Stadium, as well as the development squad’s trip to London Road to face Peterborough United in the Papa John’s Trophy - both huge occasions the youngster would have been sure to relish.
“It’s really hard when you have to have a spell out of the team," he admitted. “Sometimes, I don’t even like to watch on - but you’ve got to be there to support the boys.
“On a personal level, it’s just the best thing to be back out on the pitch playing again. It’s great to be back with the boys, doing what I love and from here, I’ve just got to push on, work on my fitness and try to help the team as much as possible.”
West Ham United U23s have experienced a largely positive calendar year, being crowned Premier League 2 Division 2 champions in the summer after concluding a curtailed 2019/20 league season unbeaten.
Whilst acclimatising to the top tier of Premier League 2 has proven a challenge, performances have been more positive than results would perhaps suggest - a salient example being that game against Everton, where the young Hammers played well but missed out in the big moments.
The new year sees the Hammers host three successive games at Rush Green Stadium back-to-back - a huge opportunity for them to make up ground on their Division 1 rivals - and Ashley is looking forward to 2021 with a measure of renewed confidence.
“It’s one hundred percent time for us all push on,” he added.
“We know it hasn’t been the best first half of the season for us as a team, but we know we’ve got players coming back from injury, we’re playing together regularly again, and we're just taking each game as it comes.”