Ben Johnson: West Ham U23s were clinical but will need to improve
For West Ham United defender Ben Johnson, the delight of being back on the pitch for the U23s was tempered by his desire to see his team improve.
Making his first appearance in Claret and Blue since mid-December against Norwich City U23s on Monday night, the right-back capped a steely performance with a second-half assist and a clean sheet as the junior Hammers defeated the Canaries 4-0.
A tight first 45 minutes saw the away team, however, arguably have the better of the play, despite Oladapo Afolayan’s well-taken opener for West Ham midway through the half.
Johnson was therefore pleased to see his team rejuvenated after the break – netting through Amadou Diallo, who converted Johnson's cross; Ademipo Odubeko; and Xande Silva – but called on them to apply that ability to the full 90 minutes moving forwards.
“It’s a great feeling to be back on the pitch,” he told whufc.com.
“I’d played last Tuesday in a friendly, but just to get minutes and try to get my fitness back and rhythm is what I’m aiming to do. We got the win and it was good for me to get 90 minutes in the bank, so I’m happy.
“Looking back, first half, they were all over us in our final third, which was disappointing. We weren’t doing our non-negotiables: we weren’t tackling or making any significant passes, and we were bringing pressure upon ourselves, which wasn’t good.
“We had a discussion at half-time, which was positive. We needed to get our running stats higher than theirs and do what we needed to do in front of goal.
“We came in one up at half-time, which was good, and then got three goals in the second half which was much more positive. It is about scoring goals and winning games, but we need to make sure we play better than the first half if we want to win the league.”
Monday evening’s victory means that, with just four games to play in Premier League 2 Division 2, West Ham U23s remain unbeaten and, more importantly, three points ahead at the table summit.
They came into the Norwich encounter, however, off the back of a frustrating 2-2 draw against Stoke U23s a fortnight ago – a match in which the Irons failed to capitalise on the chances they created.
We were fantastic in being clinical, which is what we wanted to be during the game. We wanted to just put our chances away
Johnson was therefore pleased to see them hit the Canaries for four on Monday evening, but knows there are areas for the side to work on as well.
He said: “There were some good finishes and glimpses of good play which got us our rewards, even though we didn’t always deserve them at times.
“We were fantastic in being clinical, which is what we wanted to be during the game. We wanted to just put our chances away, because in our last couple of games, we’ve not been ruthless enough. It was good to see us four score tonight and not concede any.
“We’d like to watch it back and see how we can improve for the next game and kick on from there.”
Prior to Jeremy Ngakia last month, Johnson was the last West Ham United scholar to have graduated from the Academy of Football, having made a full first-team debut against Manchester City last season.
A vocal and inspirational presence in any side, the 20-year-old captained the U23s on Monday evening, and is looking forward to applying his experience to the benefit of the Academy youngsters around him whenever possible.
“It’s good to have that experience,” he explained. “I’ve got to help these boys as well, because we all want to get the same place: we all want to play at the top level for as long as possible.
“It’s just sharing that information, and it helps me out as well. Coming back, practising my communication and leadership skills, which have improved over the last couple of years or so, it’s great to be back and stamping my authority on the team.”
West Ham United U23s’ next game is the Premier League International Cup quarter-final away to Derby County. Kick-off at Pride Park is at 7pm on Tuesday 10 March.