Oladapo Afolayan: Under-23s delighted to have taken the first step
Much like in broader life, the more difficult days in football also serve to make the highlights just that bit much more brighter.
West Ham United Under-23s secured their first win of the Premier League 2 season on Friday night, defending resolutely and counter-attacking with purpose to see off Manchester United Under-23s by two goals to nil.
The young Hammers have forced into having some harsh lessons in the division to this point, but applied the benefit of all those experiences to see off the Red Devils in east London.
The U23s took the lead with 32 minutes gone when forward Oladapo Afolayan pressured Manchester United defender Will Fish into inadvertently turning Dan Chesters’ pull-back into his own net.
If that intervention had denied Afolayan a goal, he was not dissuaded; Chesters’ slaloming run just 20 seconds after the second half had kicked off saw the winger brought down, and Afolayan coolly stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot to double his side’s advantage.
West Ham had to dig in at times to contend with waves of visiting attackers, but stuck to their tasks admirably and closed out the remaining minutes with a degree of comfort.
Jubilant celebrations at full-time reflected not just the importance of the result but the wider collective graft which lay behind it, and the No10 was keen to reassert that this first league win of the season was just the beginning for West Ham’s U23s in 2020/21.
“It feels great,” he smiled afterwards. “We’ve worked really hard this season and we’ve not always got the results we feel like we’ve deserved.
“I think tonight we took the first step in putting that right and getting ourselves out of the position we’re in. We’re delighted in the dressing room – the boys are buzzing.
“We showed a resilience. We worked hard after the Leicester game, when we felt like we should have got more from it. We got a sucker punch right at the end of that game and lost, so we worked on being more resilient and it showed in our performance.
“There were some unbelievable performances at the back. The whole team played really well and I think that was the biggest thing: we backed one another up and worked well together.”
A collective desire to put things right was certainly salient, as the young Hammers fought fervently for every loose ball on the pitch.
I think that’s the West Ham way: you fight for everything and you work hard for each other. That’s the basis
That battling quality served the Academy footballers well on Friday evening at Rush Green, and Afolayan believes that ongoing mentality could be the key to unlocking the young side’s undoubted potential.
He explained: “I think that’s the West Ham way: you fight for everything and you work hard for each other. That’s the basis.
“We want to take that basis into every game and then add the quality the group’s got on top of that.
“We’ll be unstoppable because we showed that last season, and we just need to get back to there. We’re not far off it.”
With confidence high, the striker is now looking forward to the development squad’s next test: the Papa John’s Trophy second round tie at League One high-flyers Peterborough United in early December.
“From tonight, we take forward positives, purely positives,” he noted.
“We go into our next game at Peterborough and it’s a massive game, hopefully in front of some fans. It’ll be a great experience for a lot of the boys, so we can go into that with a bit of a freedom, knowing we’ve already had results in that competition against good teams before.
“We’ll go there and do exactly what we’ve done tonight if need be – grind out a result – but obviously we want to show our quality on top of that too.”