While every professional footballer relishes the sense of success, there’s little like the sense of rivalry to make it all the sweeter – as West Ham United U23s and Anthony Scully are finding out.
At just past the halfway mark of Premier League 2 Division 2 this season, the U23s sit top of the table, eleven wins – and no defeats – from 13 games yielding a one-point advantage at the summit.
Their first game back after a three-week festive fixture break, however, could prove pivotal; second-placed Manchester United U23s visit the Chigwell Construction Stadium on Monday evening.
The Red Devils are one of only two teams to have taken league points off the Hammers this season in a high-quality 2-2 draw at Old Trafford at the end of August, a contest which set the tone for a breathless first half to the campaign.
Given both sides’ consistency this season, the result of Monday’s encounter could hold great significance come the end of the season, but Scully believes that he and his teammates are embracing the pressure and relishing their enthralling title race.
“It’s been brilliant because we’re pushing Manchester United to their max,” the 20-year-old smiled. “They’re pushing us too because we know if either of us drops even a point from here on out, the other team could seize the advantage.
“We know that we have to be on it every game, which we largely have been this season, so it’s been hugely exciting gunning for the title along with them. Hopefully we can continue what we’re doing, play the way we have been playing all season, and we’ll see where it takes us at the end of the campaign.”
Despite Scully starting the season as an attacking midfielder, the development squad’s now-regular No9 has scored 16 times in 17 competitive appearances in 2019/20.
Being top scorer in the league going into the Christmas break, there’s not a lot more you can ask for as a striker. More importantly, however, is that the team is playing really well
The aforementioned 2-2 draw with Manchester United marked Scully’s first league start this campaign, his first competitive appearance up front, and his first league goal of the campaign, so the visit of the Red Devils holds extra significance for the striker.
Through tireless pressing, sharp movement and a priceless ability to arrive in the box just at the crucial moment, the Republic of Ireland U21 international has continued to lead the line in the best way possible for a centre forward: by relentlessly scoring goals.
His 12 strikes in Premier League 2 Division 2 have seen him shoot to the top of the division’s scoring charts – one ahead of teammate Nathan Holland – while also winning Premier League 2 Player of the Month for September and a further nomination for October.
“I’m very happy with how the season’s gone,” he observed. “Obviously at the start of the season I didn’t play as a striker, but I’ve come into the position and now I’ve got 16 goals.
“Being top scorer in the league going into the Christmas break, there’s not a lot more you can ask for as a striker. More importantly, however, is that the team is playing really well, and I’m just happy to contribute with the goals that I can.”
Led by their former youth player Neil Wood, tonight’s visitors Manchester United U23s have showcased imperious form themselves, coming into this match off the back of a seven-game winning streak prior to the winter break.
Boasting a number of highly talented squad players, some of whom have seen first-team action in the Europa League, the Red Devils’ sole defeat to Aston Villa U23s in September has remained the difference between them and their Claret and Blue counterparts.
Having enjoyed an excellent first half to the season themselves, however – West Ham U23s have scored at least three times in each of their last eight league games – Scully is confident that his team can maintain their own momentum and form going into tonight’s game.
“It was great to have been top of the league at Christmas and unbeaten in the league,” he observed. “It was the perfect half-season for us.
“The lads have done brilliantly the first half of the season, so we’ve kept training hard every day to keep that momentum up. Obviously you want the games to keep on coming, but it’s been a good opportunity for the lads to get a small rest in, so that we can kick on again now.
“The more games we’ve played together, the more we’ve built up a lot of confidence as a team. When you’re playing football matches with confidence, you get better performances.
“We’re playing in a rhythm, we’re playing regular games together, and the team’s been playing well consistently. I think it’s just down to that; we’ve got to do the same things this second half of the campaign, and always go for the win.”
West Ham United U23s take on Manchester United U23s in a top-of-the-table clash at the Chigwell Construction Stadium at 7pm tonight. Men’s Season Ticket Holders can attend free of charge. Tickets are available on the gate, with concessions costing just £3 and adult tickets at only £5!