Emmanuel Longelo: Under-21s must be relentless at Portsmouth
The prospect of a match against senior Football League opposition poses no fear for Under-21s defender Emmanuel Longelo, who has come to relish such occasions.
The left-sided player, formerly a winger before enjoying a successful conversion to left-back at the beginning of last season, made his senior West Ham United debut as a second-half substitute against League One side Hull City in September.
Such an experience followed five equivalent appearances in the Papa John’s Trophy – until recently known as the EFL Trophy – with the Academy of Football’s development sides.
The 19-year-old east Londoner has since come to be regarded as a consistent and key performer in development football, with Longelo showing both excellent defensive and offensive qualities in the Hammers’ recent 4-2 loss to Liverpool in Premier League 2.
A marauding run and inch-perfect cross laid an equaliser on a plate for Oladapo Afolayan, and while West Ham went on to lose the match, Longelo’s performance was wholly impressive on his return from injury.
Now, as the Irons prepare to travel to Portsmouth’s Fratton Park for their final Papa John’s Trophy group stage match of the season on Tuesday – having already qualified – Longelo wants his side to show their undoubted character on another grand stage.
“The Liverpool match was good for me,” he told whufc.com “I’d been out for a month so it was good to get 90 minutes in the tank, but obviously we were disappointed with the result.
“I think we’ve always had character about us. Even last season, we were down a few times and managed to come up with the goods. We need to come back again.
“I can’t fault the lads’ efforts. The players, the backroom staff, we’re all working hard. Right now, we’ve just been unfortunate with league results – but we know they will come.
“Even though we’ve already qualified, we can’t take our foot off the gas [against Portsmouth] – we’ve got to keep going and be relentless.”
Despite the Hammers’ winless run at the start of the Premier League 2 season, they have played some of their best football of the season in the cup competition.
Impressive passing, tireless pressing and outstanding goals proved the key components in 3-1 and 1-0 wins away at Southend United and Colchester United respectively in September.
Those results mean that, when the young Hammers travel to last season’s finalists, League One side Portsmouth, on Tuesday night, their passage from Group E of the southern section is already secure – with just top spot left to play for.
Longelo, however, believes he and his teammates see it as another chance to prove themselves.
“It’s a good opportunity,” he explained, “especially if you could possibly go out on loan in the second half of the season. You’ve got to perform in these type of games and show that you’re capable of playing in them regularly.
“It’ll be a good game – it’ll be tough, so we’ve got to be ready mentally and physically. These are the games we look forward to and want to play in.”
As for Longelo’s own development, the defender admitted that he is starting to love life at the back – while taking tips from his assistant coach, who is an inspiration to all the young Irons looking to emulate his esteemed career in Claret and Blue.
Longelo said: “I’m starting to feel more comfortable at left-back now. I’m always taking advice from Steve Potts as he was a full-back himself, so he’s been helping me.
“I’ve been working on my crossing while I’ve been coming back. Against Liverpool, I saw Dapo making a run in and thought I’d hit it in nice and low. I’m happy I got the assist and that he got his goal.
“I’ve also been watching clips of other full-backs and I’ve just added to my game really. I’m starting to feel comfortable and really starting to enjoy it, as you can see in my performances.”
West Ham United Under-21s take on Portsmouth on Tuesday 10 November in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 7pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 6.30pm.
The match will also be streamed through Portsmouth's EFL iFollow service with match passes available at £10 via the home team website.
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.