Following his side’s five-game unbeaten run in Premier League 2 Division 1, West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko has called on his players to channel their recent momentum into Friday’s challenging fixture at home to Manchester City.
The Citizens were confirmed as Division 1 champions for the first time in their history on Monday night, having moved ten points clear of second-placed Blackburn Rovers with just three games left to play.
Ahead of their visit to Rush Green Stadium, Manchester City’s U23s have scored an impressive 68 goals in just 21 matches – comfortably the division’s highest sum – and have conceded just 28, the league's second-fewest.
But Halajko’s young Hammers can not only draw confidence from their recent resurgence in the league – they have picked up eleven points from a possible last 15, including a 2-1 win over Everton on Monday afternoon – but also periods of the reverse fixture in early March.
While the final 5-0 scoreline reflected City’s eventual dominance of the ball, West Ham’s U23s proved more than a match for their high-flying opponents in the first half and, given the balance of chances created, they could consider themselves unfortunate to be behind at the interval.
It’ll be the toughest test we’ve had yet, but we’re in good form going into it, so hopefully we can bring all of the good bits from our last five games into it
With that in mind – and certainly no shortage of positives to draw from their last five games, which include a 1-1 draw against last season’s champions Chelsea and a 3-2 comeback win away at Manchester United – Halajko feels his team are primed for Friday's challenge.
He told whufc.com: “Obviously the toughest test of the season is Manchester City at the moment. They’ve been runaway leaders at the top of the league, and they’re champions now, so it’s going to be a really tough game.
“We played them away last month, and they were better than us on that day by quite some way in the end. We weren’t at our best, but they did really capitalise on that. They’re very dangerous and good on the ball, but also their final third play is so clinical.
“It’ll be the toughest test we’ve had yet, but we’re in good form going into it, so hopefully we can bring all of the good bits from our last five games into it.
“If we can do that, it should be a close game.”
As well as vying for important Premier League 2 points, Halajko feels that a key objective from Friday afternoon will be maintaining the high standards the young Hammers have set during their recent good run of form.
With three league games of the season left to go, the Hammers currently sit in 12th place, just behind Leicester City on goal difference.
Back-to-back fixtures against Arsenal ultimately conclude the U23s’ domestic season, and Halajko wants to see his players keep up the positives during their season run-in – starting with Friday’s test against City.
He added: “I think we’re in a position where we can say ‘let’s do the same again on Friday – keep doing these good habits’, and also show them examples of that.
“We’ve got five games’ worth of footage, and we can show the players good examples of them doing things well.
“We can capture them doing it well and say ‘can you do it again? Can you keep your run going? Can you consistently keep doing this time after time after time, week after week after week, game after game after game?’
“That’s what it takes to be a top pro, so hopefully they can keep it going until the end of the season.”
West Ham United U23s take on Manchester City U23s on Friday 23 April in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 4pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 3.30pm.
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.