West Ham United U23s captain Conor Coventry believes the resolve that he and his teammates are showing will stand them in good stead for the rest of the season.
The Hammers’ development squad have experienced a challenging 2020/21 season at times, but go into their final five Premier League 2 games of the campaign knowing their destiny lies in their own hands.
During that time, in order to preserve their Premier League 2 Division 1 status, they will need to overturn a three-point gap between themselves and Leicester City U23s.
That fightback could begin on Friday night, when the young Hammers travel to Leigh Sports Village to face Manchester United U23s, before two home games against Everton and Manchester City – then back-to-back games against Arsenal – conclude the campaign.
The U23s drew 1-1 against reigning champions Chelsea U23s at Rush Green Stadium earlier this week – a fifth point from their last three games – and could consider themselves unlucky not to have come away with a win.
“I think we have to look at the Chelsea game, at the end of the day, as a point gained,” Coventry told whufc.com.
“I think we played really well and maybe deserved all three, but we’re going to have to take a point, go on to Man United and try and get a win there.
“It was no secret we needed a bit of momentum, and now it’s coming at a good time. [U23s lead coach] Dmitri [Halajko] said before the game that we were in good form and had got some good points in the last few games, and we came close to a win.
“I know we’ve got Man United next, who are obviously a good side, but we think we can get a win and, if we do, it puts us in a good position.”
West Ham’s U23s have enjoyed some top-quality encounters with Manchester United U23s in Premier League 2 in recent years.
Last season, the Hammers pipped the Red Devils to the Premier League 2 Division 2 title, finishing three points ahead of Friday’s hosts when the 2019/20 Academy season was curtailed early.
They’re a really good side, so we’ve got to go again and try and prove we can beat them again
Earlier this campaign, the Irons claimed their first league victory of the season against the Manchester side, winning 2-0 courtesy of a Will Fish own-goal and an Oladapo Afolayan penalty.
Coventry recalled: “Last season, Manchester United were again a really good side, but we had a good title run-in with them and managed to pip them.
“Earlier this season, the lads did really well and got a win against them… but at the same time, it counts for nothing – they’re a really good side, so we’ve got to go again and try and prove we can beat them again.”
Key to any hope of doing so – and bolstering their survival hopes – will be maintaining the recent defensive solidity, attacking efficiency, and the sheer level of desire, which have all led to the U23s’ recent upturn in form.
Coventry explained: “We’re playing well at the moment – we’re in good form.
“I think we’ve ironed out some of the problems we maybe had on the pitch this season, and everyone’s on the same page and wants to work hard for each other.
“I think you could see that against Chelsea, especially in the second half – we just gave it our all, which was probably the most pleasing thing for me, seeing my teammates running as hard and working as hard as they could.
“I can see the fight in the lads in training and in our previous games as well. Our upturn in form shows that we’re not just taking anything lightly or accepting any result – and if you have that fight, that’s half the battle, so we’re in a good place at the moment.”
West Ham United U23s take on Manchester United U23s on Friday 9 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.