Dmitri Halajko: We’ve missed an opportunity today
After West Ham United U23s were denied three points away at Reading this afternoon, Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko spoke of a sense of spurned opportunity amongst his players.
With a number of players returning from long-term injury for the game, and Conor Coventry and Nathan Holland having departed on loan last week, the U23s deployed a new system at Bearwood Park Training Ground on Monday afternoon.
The Royals, however, came flying out the blocks and took the lead after just 15 minutes played when Thierry Nevers sidefooted home from inside the area.
While Sean Adarkwa – the 19-year-old making his first start of the season after recovering from injury – pounced at a corner soon after to level for the Hammers, they initially struggled to establish much fluency, but came out for the second half with a renewed sense of aggression.
Despite set-piece goals from Gonçalo Cardoso and Tunji Akinola inside six minutes twice putting West Ham ahead, either side of Conor Lawless’ equaliser, a magnificent free-kick from 25 yards by Louis Frost meant the points were shared – and Halajko rued the result.
“It’s a game where we feel we’ve missed an opportunity really,” he told whufc.com, “both individually with some of our performances, and collectively, as it’s two points we’ve maybe let slip through our hands.
“We didn’t really dominate the game as much as we thought we could have. We left it a little bit open at times and we let them back into the games two or three times, which is disappointing also, so a few things were a little bit looser today than they normally are, and that’s just cost us.”
As well as Adarkwa, amongst the returning faces on display were Oladapo Afolayan, returning from a half-season loan at Mansfield Town; defender and captain for the game, Tunji Akinola, in his second start this season; and midfielder Louis Watson, making his fourth appearance off the bench.
It’s a new group of players... They’re finding their feet now and evolving as a group and there were parts of today when they showed progress in that
Halajko was pleased with his players’ efforts against Reading, but challenged the new-look side to add a sharper edge to their game.
“It’s a new group of players, with people that’ve come back from injury and some that’ve gone out,” he observed.
“They’re finding their feet now and evolving as a group and there were parts of today when they showed progress in that, and there were parts today when they showed we’ve still got a lot of work to do on the training pitch to get it up to the levels that we want.
“[In terms of our goals], great delivery from those areas. It was very unlike us not to be better in open play. We had a couple of chances in open play which normally we would make count.
“To get three from set pieces is pleasing, but then not to score from open play, it’s probably the first time we’ve done that this year, so we need to better in the penalty boxes really.”
After consistently speaking of his desire to see his players reach the next level this season, Halajko was pleased to see the likes of Coventry and Holland make their Football League bows this past weekend, as well as witnessing Jeremy Ngakia, Gonçalo Cardoso and Bernardo Rosa make the first-team squad for Friday’s game against Sheffield United.
“This week we had three involved in the first team which will have been a great experience for those,” he said.
“We also had Conor and Nathan both make their EFL debuts, so to have five players in and around a first team this weekend is what it’s all about – that’s why we want to be pushing players and making them ready for first-team football. This weekend was a good step.”