Dan Chesters: We’re at our best when we express ourselves
“Dan Chesters is the type of player that West Ham fans associate with the Club,” U18s lead coach Kevin Keen said, when the aforementioned 18-year-old signed his first professional contract in the summer.
“He’s a very creative, quick, attacking midfield player, but also has the ability to be tenacious and win the ball back for the team. He’s one to look out for.”
That, indeed, is the very type of player Keen himself embodied during a decade’s service as a West Ham United player: a box-to-box midfielder who could graft to regain possession, retain it, and moments later pop up to create something game-changing with it.
While comparisons with Keen are, at this stage of Chesters’ career, fledgling, the creative midfielder is equally doing plenty right to set himself on a similar course to success in Claret and Blue one day.
Chesters’ talents have been salient from an early age; as a 15-year-old, he had impressed sufficiently within the Academy of Football to make his debut at U23 level, coming on for the final five minutes of a Premier League 2 fixture against Liverpool in February 2018.
He went on to sign Scholarship terms that summer and, continuing to make a significant impact at U18 level over the next two seasons – while occasionally appearing at development squad level, where he recorded his first Premier League 2 assist last season – he more than earned that first professional contract he penned earlier this year.
Now a regular inclusion in U23s match-day squads under lead coach Dmitri Halajko, Chesters’ patience and hard work in training resulted in his first start of the season earlier this week: an impressive performance in the 1-0 EFL Trophy win over Colchester United on Tuesday.
“It was a great win,” Chesters reflected afterwards. “I was absolutely buzzing, everybody is – both for the team’s performance, but also for Conor [Coventry], who scored the winning goal.
“I’ve never seen him score one like that before! He was unbelievable. The entire team’s performance was strong. I think everyone put in a shift and that meant that everyone deserved the win.
“I’ve been working hard in training to get fit. I think Dmitri saw that, gave me the chance to play, and hopefully I impressed him.”
That display against Colchester typified the best of the qualities this undoubtedly talented U23s side have proven themselves capable of regularly producing: controlling when on the ball, aggressive when without it, and efficient at both ends of the pitch.
Everyone just seemed more confident against Colchester, and we started expressing ourselves, which is when we’re at our best
These characteristics were crucial in putting senior Football League opposition to the sword – the 1-0 win at the JobServe Community Stadium followed a 3-1 victory over Southend United earlier this season – and all but sealed the young Hammers’ place in the EFL Trophy knockout stages.
Now, as the young Hammers go in search of their first win of the season in Premier League 2, Chesters has called on his teammates to display similar characteristics when they host Brighton & Hove Albion at Rush Green Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
He explained: “Tuesday’s win was all about aggression. Everyone put in a great shift and everyone just got on the ball a bit more than we had been doing.
“Everyone just seemed more confident against Colchester, and we started expressing ourselves, which is when we’re at our best. Finally, Conor got that goal, but we just played well throughout the game.
“I think we’ve learned from last season that games don’t always go to plan. We’ve learned that if teams are a bit tougher than us, or a bit older than us, we’ve just got to try and play quickly around them and show what we can do.
“Now, hopefully we can get our first win in the league. We’ll have to wait and see.
“We just have to keep playing with the same mentality as we did against Colchester, and we’re confident we’ll get the win.”
West Ham United Under-23s take on Brighton & Hove Albion Under-23s on Saturday 3 October in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 3pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 2.30pm.
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 still in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.