Dmitri Halajko: Under-23s will relish King Power test

Steve Potts and Dmitri Halajko

In preparation for their potential careers as top-level footballers, Academy players can expect to play at a full range of venues during the course of their development.

Occasions such as a trip to a Premier League ground, therefore, are truly ones to savour; the chance to performance on the kind of pitch they hope to one day grace with regularity.

West Ham United Under-23s will enjoy such a platform on Monday evening when they travel to Leicester City’s King Power Stadium in search of a first Premier League 2 win of the season.

Last season, the U23s visited a multitude of first-team stadia, coming within minutes of beating Manchester United U23s at Old Trafford in front of a multi-thousand-strong crowd, only to be forced to settle for a 2-2 draw.

They also played at the likes of Derby County’s Pride Park, Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium, Brentford’s Griffin Park and, of course, West Ham United’s London Stadium.

It’s one of the best pitches around and it’s a fantastic stadium, so the lads will relish that. As a team, we can’t wait, to be honest

Dmitri Halajko

Having seen his development squad win three games out of three at stadia this campaign – all in the Papa John’s Trophy group stages – lead coach Dmitri Halajko believes his players will relish the chance to prove themselves on the grand stage once more.

He told “We haven’t had many stadium games this year because of some of the COVID restrictions, so it’s fantastic that Leicester have given us the opportunity to play there. 

“It’s one of the best pitches around and it’s a fantastic stadium, so the lads will relish that. As a team, we can’t wait, to be honest.”

In their last game, almost a fortnight prior, the development squad became the first team to beat Portsmouth in 90 minutes in the Papa John’s Trophy in over a thousand days.

While the home team at Fratton Park did field some young players themselves, there was still a significant experience gap between the two sides in terms of the amount of senior football played.

The Hammers were diligent, dutiful and – when it mattered – clinical in their victory, with Kai Corbett’s early finish capping an impressive all-round team display and a 1-0 win.

Halajko was delighted to see his players add a steely edge to their game on the south coast, having struggled to keep clean sheets in the league so far, and hopes that those qualities will transfer to Monday’s game against Leicester’s U23s.

He confirmed: “Certainly we want to take forward that solid defensive shape, where we’re not easy to break down and not easy to score against. 

“More importantly, against Portsmouth, we didn’t make any big mistakes which handed other teams goals. That's vital. 

“If we start with that defensive performance as our foundation, that gives us a really good base to build upon. Then, from there, we can play the nice, attacking football we know we can produce.”

West Ham United Under-23s take on Leicester Under-23s on Monday 23 November in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 7pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on from 6.30pm.

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.

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