Dmitri Halajko: U23s anticipating tight game against Chelsea
West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko believes his players can draw inspiration from the nature of their last clash with Premier League 2 champions Chelsea.
The Hammers, who won Premier League 2 Division 2 last season, came up against the Division 1 winners – the Blues – in their season opener at Kingsmeadow last September.
To add to the scale of the fixture, neither side had suffered defeat the preceding season as they went on to lift the respective trophies – and a fiercely competitive game therefore ensued in south London.
Both teams fought hard for the points, but whereas the young Hammers spurned several late chances, England youth international Dion Rankine came off the bench to clinically convert Chelsea’s last attack – the tight game finishing, frustratingly for the players from east London, 1-0 to the hosts.
The return fixture on Tuesday evening sees West Ham’s U23s host Chelsea’s development at Rush Green Stadium, and Halajok is anticipating a similarly competitive contest.
“I thought it was a great game last time,” the lead coach recalled. “I thought we actually played really well and maybe deserved more out of that game.
“It was a really tight game. It could’ve gone either way and they just edged it. We’ll hope to turn the tide this time and we’ll be the ones trying to edge it, because I think it’ll be another really close game.
“There’ll be a lot on it but hopefully we’ll be the difference makers this time.”
The Hammers go into Tuesday’s game off the back of impressive performances in a 1-1 draw away at Liverpool and a 3-1 win at home to Leicester, both prior to the international break.
I think four points from our last two games, and those two games being against Leicester and Liverpool, is a really good return
Halajko’s team have struggled to convert chances into goals so far this season, but were particularly clinical with their opportunities against the Foxes, with Freddie Potts, Keenan Forson and Conor Coventry all making the most of invitations to strike.
Entering their final stretch of games in 2020/21 – the U23s have six Premier League 2 matches left to play in the next five weeks – such decisiveness could prove the difference when it comes to securing the development squad’s top-flight status.
Halajko’s team have a four-point gap to close on Leicester, who sit just outside the relegation zone, during that time, but – with Tuesday’s fixture against Chelsea marking a game in hand for the Hammers – the U23s lead coach wants his young charges to play with belief.
He explained: “I think four points from our last two games, and those two games being against Leicester and Liverpool, is a really good return.
“It gets us into a run of form that we believe we’re capable of getting into in terms of getting more wins and more results – and that gives us a chance of getting out of the league position we’re in.”
West Ham United U23s take on Chelsea U23s on Tuesday 6 April 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 6.30pm.
Please note that Academy fixtures will be played behind closed doors until further notice. Only key personnel will be admitted on site and the match 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.