West Ham United Under-23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko has hailed the influence of captain Conor Coventry this season.
The Hammers remain winless in Premier League 2 following a difficult 3-2 defeat at Derby County on Monday night, but Coventry once again put in an outstanding performance in midfield.
The Republic of Ireland U21s international was instrumental in driving his team forwards, fighting for every loose ball and scoring the young Hammers’ opening goal as they came close to fighting back from a three-goal deficit late on.
Coventry’s goal at Derby was his fifth in seven development squad games so far this season, and Halajko was delighted at how the 20-year-old midfielder, wearing the armband, has led by example in recent months.
Such a positive influence could be crucial as the U23s seek to kickstart their league campaign when they host Liverpool U23s at Rush Green Stadium on Friday afternoon.
“Our players are very disappointed at the moment,” Halajko told whufc.com, speaking after the defeat to Derby. “They know they’re letting themselves down, and they’re holding their hands up to that.
“Conor Coventry, our captain, has been outstanding at leading the group and driving them forwards. Everything he does is a great example for any young player.
“If more players can take a leaf out of his book then we’ll start moving in the right direction, because he’s an inspirational captain and someone who’s really trying to push the team on.”
The proximity of the Liverpool match to the Derby defeat may well work in West Ham’s favour, given the much-improved nature of their display during the second half at Loughborough University Stadium.
Nevertheless, they will face stiff opposition in Liverpool U23s, who go into the game having won at Arsenal last Friday evening.
That’s what you always need to do in football: look forward to the next chance to try and put right anything that went wrong
Led by manager Barry Lewtas, following Neil Critchley’s summer departure to Blackpool, the Reds’ U23s side could boast a number of players with significant first-team experience, following the unique instance of fixture congestion last season which saw their first-team play two games in as many days.
Liverpool U23s currently sit third in Premier League 2 with four wins from six games played, but Halajko has called on the West Ham development squad to focus on the positives from the second half against Derby – and put them into action once more on Friday afternoon.
“We’ve got another opportunity to put it right,” he noted. “That’s what you always need to do in football: look forward to the next chance to try and put right anything that went wrong.
“There are bits from the Derby game that we can build on and hopefully we can take into the Liverpool match, and then there are plenty of bits we will look to tidy up and get better at. That’s a positive to having had such a close game.”
West Ham United Under-23s take on Liverpool Under-23s on Friday 6 November in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 2pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 1.30pm.
Please note that all Academy fixtures will be played behind closed doors until further notice. Only key personnel will be admitted on site and matches will be played without supporters present, in line with safety guidelines and social distancing measures in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.