West Ham United Under-18s got their 2020 off to an excellent start with a 2-1 win over Chelsea at Little Heath on Saturday morning.
Going into the new year third-placed in U18 Premier League South, the Hammers were superb to a man against their London rivals, the league leaders who were hitherto undefeated up to that point.
The visitors took an early lead in contentious circumstances when George Nunn put them ahead after eight minutes, but West Ham came roaring back during an entertaining first 45.
Two well-drilled teams were on show in east London, containing one another well, so it was left to two moments of outstanding quality from West Ham’s scholars to overturn Chelsea’s advantage.
The first came on 32 minutes when midfielder Keenan Appiah-Forson recorded a spectacular first goal of the season, arriving at the edge of the area to rifle home Veron Parkes’ ball on the half-volley.
Two minutes later, and 18-year-old Parkes found himself on the scoresheet, an excellent team goal seeing Harrison Ashby and Lennon Peake combine down the right before the latter played in Parkes, who provided an exquisite finish - his tenth goal for the U18s in all competitions this campaign.
Devoid of clear-cut chances, the second half saw the physical league leaders play a number of threatening balls into the box, but bodies in Claret and Blue defended stoutly to defy a talented visiting side and claim a memorable three points.
I thought we played quite well and kept out shape in the first half to contain them, before we scored two very, very good goals – two of the best we’ve scored this season
“It was a fantastic team performance," U18s Lead Coach Kevin Keen reflected afterwards.
“I thought we played quite well and kept out shape in the first half to contain them, before we scored two very, very good goals – two of the best we’ve scored this season.
“At half-time, we had a good chat about how the second half would go, and to be honest we just dug in and really defended well.
“[Midfielder] Peter Stroud, starting his first game after coming back from his broken ankle, ran himself into the ground, but in truth it was a very good team performance, a hard-fought and a great way to start the year.”
The win sees the Hammers close the gap on Chelsea at the top of the table to just three points, pulling level on points with second-placed Fulham – albeit with the Lilywhites having a game in hand.
“You can’t put a limit on your own expectations or hopes,” Keen noted. “We want to do as well as we can for the Club and finish the year as high up the table we can.
“Hopefully between now and the end of the season we’ll see some new faces progress into the team, like some of the U16s, but at the same time I expect all the boys to go out and compete and aim to finish as high up the league as possible.”
West Ham U18s next league game is at home to Reading U18s on Saturday 18 January, with kick-off 11am at Little Heath Sports Ground.
West Ham United: Jinadu; Ashby, Okotcha (c), Baptiste, Greenidge, Stroud, Nebyla (Nsumbu 86), Appiah-Forson, Peake (Kileba 73), Parkes, Simon-Swyer (Fevrier 78)
Subs: Sanneh, Veliky
Goals: Appiah-Forson 32', Parkes 34'