Dmitri Halajko: Top-level quality counted against us
Top-flight experience ultimately proved telling as West Ham United Under-23s slipped to a late defeat against Leicester Under-23s at the King Power Stadium on Monday.
Despite the hosts going down to ten men in the early exchanges, Leicester’s development squad snatched three points in the 87th minute when former England U21 international Demarai Gray powered his way into the box and thrashed home a winning goal.
Gray had earlier given Leicester – whose starting side also featured first teamers Ricardo Pereira and Islam Slimani – the lead when he latched onto a through ball and slid a low finish past Nathan Trott.
West Ham’s development squad continually fashioned presentable opportunities and fully warranted their equaliser midway through the second half, as Oladapo Afolayan converted from the spot after Dan Chesters was brought down by Leicester’ keeper Jakub Stolarczyk.
Yet despite taking up promising positions time and again, it was the clinical nature of Gray’s display which ultimately proved the difference, U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko reflected.
He explained: “It’s a game really where we’ve had enough openings and enough of the ball to win the game and to dominate, but we haven’t really shown the quality needed at this level to get a result.
“We’re disappointed in our quality tonight. They had some first-team players in which made it a great challenge, but they also went down to ten men early. We were happy with the amount of the ball we had, but our end product was really nowhere near what should be.
“It highlighted what Premier League quality is all about. Demarai Gray got the ball only twice in the 90 minutes in dangerous positions, and he’s punished us both times.
“We got the ball in a dangerous positions probably 11 or 12 times and haven’t punished them. Those pros who were out there today showed what top-level quality is all about.”
Although that same cutting edge proved pivotal with respect to the narrow margins which settled the game, the Hammers could also consider themselves unfortunate not to have found the back of the net more than once in the second half.
Having grabbed their equaliser, the U23s struck the woodwork twice within the space of three minutes – the first time courtesy a fierce Kai Corbett finish which rebounded off the bar, and the second being a well-struck free-kick from Emmanuel Longelo which hit the inside of the post before bouncing clear.
It was not to be on the night, however, and Halajko and the U23s will now have to turn their attentions to Friday’s Premier League 2 fixture at home to Manchester United U23s as they look to secure a first league win of the season.
“That’s where we are at the moment,” Halajko admitted. “We’ve hit the bar, we’ve hit the post, we’ve had chances and loads of the ball, but we’ve still fallen short again.
“It’s frustrating for everyone involved, it’s disappointing for everyone involved, and we need to work hard to find a way to turn it around.”