Dmitri Halajko: West Ham United U23s must come to clinch games
West Ham United U23s Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko was in ambivalent mood after his side’s 2-2 draw against Stoke U23s on Monday evening.
The Hammers twice went ahead either side of half-time through well-taken goals by Xande Silva and Sean Adarkwa, but were pegged back on both occasions as the visitors capitalised on defensive errors and a 90th-minute penalty kick.
That late equaliser scored from the spot by Stoke’s Ryan Corrigan undid much of the good work the West Ham development squad had produced in a hard-fought first Premier League 2 Division 2 game of the season at London Stadium.
Citing other occasions that his team have conceded late goals during the 2019/20 campaign, therefore, Halajko observed that, while the table-toppers have much to be proud of, they also have plenty to work on.
We need to smell that victory is coming, and hold out and clinch our games, rather than step off for the last 15 minutes and let teams back in
“There were two sides to it really,” he reasoned. “On the one side of it, we look at it and think we’re still unbeaten. To still be unbeaten in February is a really good achievement, to still be top of the league, but the disappointing fact is we’ve let the game slip again from a winning position.
“That’s three or four times now we’ve been in a winning position in the last 15 minutes and let the other team back in it to get a draw, so that’s a disappointment.
“It could be a concentration thing. I don’t think it’s a physical thing, but it could be. We just haven’t managed to always hold out when it becomes crucial. That needs to be a time when we sharpen our minds, not the time we slack off.
“We need to smell that victory is coming, and hold out and clinch our games, rather than step off for the last 15 minutes and let teams back in.”
Seeking to stretch their advantage at the top of the table to five points, Halajko fielded a strong eleven for the visit of Stoke, who themselves were fourth prior to the game.
At the point of the attack was a dynamic front four – Oladapo Afolayan, Amadou Diallo, Xande Silva and Adarkwa – three of whom netted in their previous league fixture at Sunderland.
Supported by holding midfielders Bernardo Rosa and Alfie Lewis, the attackers produced no shortage of dangerous moments on Monday evening, but ultimately struggled to capitalise on them before that late equaliser – an area identified by Halajko for improvement.
“We had enough chances to kill the game off, both at 1-0 and when we were 2-1 up,” Halajko noted. “We certainly had the openings where our final pass or our final touch or our shot wasn’t at the level needed really, and if they were, we would have won the game comfortably.”
We certainly had the openings where our final pass or our final touch or our shot wasn’t at the level needed really, and if they were, we would have won the game comfortably
First-team manager David Moyes was in attendance at London Stadium on Monday evening to watch Halajko’s side, along with more than 650 West Ham United supporters, and the Lead Coach was delighted his young charges had such an excellent platform on which to showcase their talents.
“We spoke about it before the game: what an opportunity,” he said. “The first-team manager was here and all of his coaching staff. Playing at a stadium like this is a massive stage for our lads, and there’ve been some bits where they’ve done well and they’ll be happy with, and some bits where we can certainly improve.
“This kind of environment in which to play football is brilliant for their development.”
The U23s return to action on Monday 2 March, when Norwich City are the visitors to Dagenham & Redbridge's Chigwell Construction Stadium for a 7pm Premier League 2 Division 2 kick-off.