Dmitri Halajko: We produced a dominant performance
West Ham United U23s were made to wait for their just rewards against Everton U23s on Monday afternoon, but lead coach Dmitri Halajko was delighted by his players’ dominance and persistence.
The Hammers were well on top during the course of the 90 minutes at Rush Green Stadium, but until the closing stages of the game trailed to an eleventh-minute penalty won and converted by the Toffees' Josh Bowler.
Despite having the majority of possession, 14 corners and some 25 shots on goal – twice striking the woodwork – a combination of fine Everton defending and laudable goalkeeping from Harry Tyrer looked like it would lead to a frustrating afternoon for Halajko’s side.
Yet West Ham’s U23s stuck to their guns, continued to carve out opportunities and – with the clock ticking towards the final 15 minutes – once again produced a dramatic Premier League 2 turnaround.
Mipo Odubeko – twice previously denied by superb stops from Tyrer – eventually won out, leaping highest to head home Ryan Fredericks’ looping cross from close range.
Just three minutes later, Odubeko’s high work rate saw him win the ball back high up the pitch and – after being fouled in the area – the forward gleefully smashed the subsequent penalty home.
The result takes the Hammers – ahead of Leicester and Southampton’s game on Monday evening – three points clear of the Premier League 2 Division 1 drop zone.
Halajko told whufc.com: “I thought we dominated the majority of the game: we dominated the ball, the final third entries and the big chances in the game.
“At one point, the only concern looked like being that we might not capitalise on that. It took us until the last 15 minutes to actually make all of that pressure count in terms of goals scored, but in the end, we did enough to win the game.
“It was a dominant performance on the ball, off the ball, and we got the win that we deserved.
“There have been games this season where we haven’t managed to do that. There have been games we’ve dominated, especially early on in the season, where we had so much of the ball, so many crosses, so many chances, and just couldn’t find a way to win the game.
“It’s good now that we’re developing and actually getting better and putting to bed those games which we should be winning.”
The Hammers’ line-up on Monday was bolstered by the inclusion of several first-team players working their way back to full fitness.
With the Academy of Football also bedding in numerous youth team talents into U23s football this season, the result was a team which saw 17-year-old Freddie Potts and 18-year-olds Kai Corbett and Odubeko starting alongside established senior internationals.
Halajko was hence delighted with the influence of the likes of Fredericks, Darren Randolph, Fabian Balbuena and Manuel Lanzini on his young charges.
“It’s invaluable,” the lead coach explained.
“The kind of experience you get from playing alongside a top, top pro, talking you through the game, watching them, seeing what they do – that’s better than any coaching session or normal game. It’s like a month’s worth of development there in just 90 minutes.
“The first-team players that were in today were so good with the younger lads; the way they talked, the way they encouraged, and the information that they gave the players was really top-class today.
“In terms of development, for me, that’s one of the key parts for young players to really push them onto the next level.”
The Hammers’ development squad are now unbeaten in their last five games, having picked up eleven points in that time to boost themselves up the Premier League 2 Division 1 table.
The lads have worked so hard. I don’t think in any of those five games they’ve left anything out on the pitch
With just three games left to go, Halajko’s team have rallied to give themselves an excellent chance of retaining their top-flight status in development football.
“The last five games have been excellent,” Halajko beamed.
“The lads have worked so hard. I don’t think in any of those five games they’ve left anything out on the pitch – their effort and work rate has been top drawer, and they’ve added quality to that as well.
“To have so many youth team players on the pitch as well, playing at this level, is something we’re really proud of, as well as those experienced U23s players really gaining momentum and looking like senior players within the group.
“It’s been a good end to the season but we need to continue it and not stop. We’ve got three games left and we want to keep this run going.”