Olatunji Akinola: Recent tests have been good preparation for Colchester

Olatunji Akinola

West Ham United Under-21s defender Olatunji Akinola believes the various challenges his side have faced in recent fixtures will amount to good preparation for Tuesday’s EFL Trophy trip to Colchester United.

The Hammers went to Southampton in Premier League 2 on Saturday afternoon and were forced to dig in for long stretches of the first half, doing well to only go in 1-0 down at the interval.

Despite conceding early in the second period, the Hammers rallied and went on to pen the hosts back, doubling down on their aggressive pressing and creating a number of presentable opportunities.

Such pressure led to a 2-2 draw and arguably domination against a side which included establish Premier League professionals in Angus Gunn, Josh Sims and Callum Slattery.

As the development squad prepare to travel to Colchester United on Tuesday evening for their second EFL Trophy group stage game – having won their first 3-1 at Southend United – Akinola has called on his side to sport a similar mentality at the JobServe Community Stadium.

“The first half against Southampton, we were disappointed with ourselves, and we took responsibility – it wasn’t good enough,” Akinola reflected. “We lacked a bit of intensity about our play. 

“Come the second half, we changed formation and got a bit of a stern word from the staff, but we came out and reacted. Credit to the boys. Everybody won their battles, and we were much more on the front foot. We even had our chances to win it, so we showed a good reaction.

“Southampton were an older team, so that was good preparation for Tuesday. We did well in the first game against Southend and showed what we can do, so all the boys are confident and looking forward to taking on Colchester. 

“If we can get a win we’re in a good position to qualify, so hopefully we can do the business.”

The way we finished against Southampton was excellent, so we can carry that forward

Olatunji Akinola

Akinola also believes that the Irons' second-half display – and the fact that they battled back from two goals down to draw – grants them considerable momentum going into the crunch match with the League Two side.

He explained: “If we can get positive results, whether that’s a draw or a win, we can take some momentum into the next game. The way we finished against Southampton was excellent, so we can carry that forward. 

“The Colchester game is only three days after our last one, so we can carry our performance into it. Especially with the win that we got in the first EFL Trophy game, we’ve got confidence from that, so we’re positive and looking to win again.”

As is the main objective of development football, the young Hammers have been forced to learn lessons in challenging conditions at the start of the 2020/21 season.

A testing opening fixture list has seem them tested to their limits in Premier League 2 thus far, but Akinola is satisfied that he and his teammates are learning to cope with disappointments and make the best of those kinds of situations.

“It’s hard – football’s not a straightforward game,” he said. “You can’t just be perfect all the time. 

“I think the key is that, when you’re not at your best, you have to grind out a result and grind out a performance. The first half, if you’re not at your best, you should at least aim to keep a clean sheet, go in at 0-0 and reassess. 

“You’re not all going to be perfect all the time. You just have to try and make sure everyone’s doing their individual jobs, and do the best that we can to make our quality come out.”

West Ham United Under-21s take on Colchester United on Tuesday 29 September in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 7pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 6pm.

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.

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