When you concede a last-minute equaliser, a sense of frustration is bound to linger – but West Ham United U23s defender Gonçalo Cardoso is adamant that sentiment will be channelled constructively.
The Hammers looked on course for a 14th Premier League 2 Division 2 win of the season at home to Stoke City U23s on Monday evening - a result which would have seen them open up a five-point gap at the top of the table.
They were also enjoying the surrounds of London Stadium for the first time this season, after Xande Silva and Sean Adarkwa both finished clinically from close range either side of Gabriel Kyeremateng’s well-taken one-on-one.
Yet there was a late twist in the tale – and a bitter pill for the U23s to swallow – when Stoke won a penalty in the final minute of the 90, converted emphatically by Ryan Corrigan.
Cardoso admitted his dejection following the final whistle, but also spoke of the determination within the U23s’ ranks to right the evening’s wrongs moving forward.
“We talked in the dressing room afterwards,” the defender said. “It was a draw but it felt like a loss for us.
“We had the game in our hands, but we have to be honest and admit that the last 15 or 20 minutes we didn’t play like we did in the rest of the game. We can do better and we need to improve that.
“We had opportunities to finish the game and score a second or third, but that’s football; when you don’t score, you can always concede, and we need to see what we have to improve."
With their lead at the top of the league now standing at three points – but with second-placed Manchester United U23s having a game in hand – the young Irons are well aware that the title race is likely to go down to the wire.
Cardoso therefore echoed his teammates in declaring that the side will be treating each of their last five games with the utmost importance, putting the practice the lessons they learned from Monday.
“I have to admit there’s a little bit of frustration,” he said. “We knew we had the capacity to win the game.
“With our last five games, all of them are finals. We can’t keep losing points like this, so we need to see what we did wrong and start working towards it in our next training session.”
We can’t keep losing points like this, so we need to see what we did wrong and start working towards it in our next training session
Cardoso reserved some words of praise for the U23s’ opportunity to play at London Stadium, with two more games to come there this season.
“It was a great feeling walking out,” he noted. “The pitch is massive, it’s really big, but it was a really good experience for all of us.”
The U23s return to Dagenham & Redbridge's Chigwell Construction Stadium for their next Premier League 2 Division 2 fixture, with Norwich City the visitors on Monday 2 March at 7pm.