It’s a strange quirk in football that sometimes, for whatever reason, a player can develop a real affinity for a certain competition.
Whilst forward Kai Corbett’s form has been red-hot for West Ham United Under-18s in recent weeks, it is in the EFL Trophy where the 18-year-old has made some standout memories in Claret and Blue.
For his first appearance at development squad level, Corbett came off the bench at Newport County last season to smash in a dramatic equaliser, with the Hammers going on to seal a sensational comeback from 4-1 down at half-time to win 5-4.
On his full debut at the same level, and up against senior Football League opposition again, Corbett grasped his chance once more, providing a crisp low finish to Emmanuel Longelo’s pull-back after just four minutes against League One side Portsmouth on Tuesday evening.
The forward continued to prove a threatening outlet at Fratton Park as the young Hammers showed their resilience in a hard-fought 1-0 win over the reigning EFL Trophy champions.
His pace, trickery and energy – not to mention invention – saw Corbett come close twice late on, first with a dipping drive from 25 yards, and the second a superb rising shot from range which smacked the frame of the goal.
Speaking afterwards, Corbett was delighted that he and his teammates were able to secure a win which sees them finish Group A of the southern section of the Papa John’s Trophy with three wins from three games played.
“It’s a really good feeling,” Corbett beamed. “The boys did well. We managed to get the early goal and the boys defended and saw it out well from there.
“I saw Will [Greenidge] drive out a bit and play it to Manny, and then I know that Manny likes playing the ball across the box. I saw that their left-back wasn’t really switched on so I ran in front of him and just put it in.
“I managed to get a go last year in this year competition, so I’ve had a little bit of experience in it, but it was good to get more minutes.
“It’s a really good tournament because you’re playing against senior first teams, which is the level we all want to play at in the future. It’s good to get an experience of what they’re like and how to play against them.”
Corbett was prominent on the right side of a front three as Dmitri Halajko’s U21s were deployed in a formation more reminiscent of the first team’s in recent months.
The shift in setup helped solidify the away team as a whole and put them on track for a clean sheet which, given Corbett’s early intervention, made them the first team to beat Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy in no fewer than 1,036 days.
The teenager, who now has four goals in eight Academy appearances with the U18s and U21s, was delighted with the way he and his teammates applied themselves to the challenge before them.
Corbett said: “The whole team did really well. We spoke before the game about how we wanted to press and how we wanted to set up.
"We had a slightly different formation, but I think we did really well, sat off when we needed to and pressed when we needed to, and it was paid off.
“Looking forward, I just want to keep scoring – and from there, keep getting in the U23s!”