While full-throttled commitment is the expectation demanded of any professional footballer, whether aspiring or established, every so often an occasion comes along which a team collectively knows they will savour.
After playing at a variety of venues on their Premier League 2 Division 2 travels this season, from training grounds to full-blown stadia, West Ham United U23s will have an occasion to particularly relish against Stoke City U23s on Monday evening.
The Hammers’ development squad will walk out and go for three points at the 60,000-capacity London Stadium for the first time this season, the first of three such fixtures to take place at the home of the first team.
It is fitting, therefore, that Monday’s result could carry great significance come the end of the season, as the U23s aim to hold onto their two-point advantage over Manchester United at the top of the table.
With just six league games to go this season, U23s Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko, who has witnessed his side go unbeaten so far, is hoping his players will rise to the challenge.
“They’ll love it,” Halajko smiled. “They’ll really be looking forward to playing at London Stadium.
“It’s obviously a nice pitch, which will help us hopefully play some good football. I know our lads are looking forward to it – it’s our first game there this year – and we’ve got another two to come after it, so that should add something hopefully even more special to it.
“Stoke are a really tough opposition. They’re in and around the play-offs at the moment, so it’s got all the makings for a top-class game.”
The Hammers go into the fixture off the back of a remarkable 4-2 win at Sunderland’s Academy of Light a fortnight ago, having scored three late goals inside four minutes to mount an impressive turnaround on Wearside.
Hopefully we’re going to get a few people watching. It’s a nice environment for the U23s to play in – under the lights, in our first-team stadium, that’s where they want to test themselves
They will face stern opposition in fourth-placed Stoke U23s, however, who are managed by former player Kevin Russell, and who put in an impressive display to dispatch Reading U23s 3-0 in their last game.
Both sides have played some excellent football this season, and Halajko has called on as many West Ham supporters as possible to come down to London Stadium on Monday evening, support the future stars of Claret and Blue, and hopefully witness an excellent spectacle for youth football.
“I think the surface will be a big difference,” Halajko observed. “We want a nice surface so we can pass the ball, so that’s one thing straight away you’re going to get.
“Hopefully we’re going to get a few people watching as well. It’s a nice environment for the U23s to play in – under the lights, in our first-team stadium, that’s where they want to test themselves whenever possible, so given that opportunity, we’re confident we’ll acquit ourselves well.”
West Ham United U23s return to Premier League 2 Division 2 action against Stoke City at London Stadium on Monday 17 February, with kick-off 7pm.
Tickets are free for Season Ticket Holders and Claret Members. For non-members, they are priced at £5 for Adults and £3 for Over-65s/Under-21s. Click here to book.