West Ham United U23s’ pre-season preparations continue on Friday afternoon when they welcome Birmingham City U23s to Rush Green Stadium for a behind-closed-doors fixture.
Here’s everything you need to know about the game in advance…
The story so far
The new season’s dawn is but a week-and-a-half away for West Ham United U23s, and what an opening Premier League 2 game it is: Arsenal at the London Stadium.
Every member of the development squad will therefore be doing their all to ensure their name is on lead coach Dmitri Halajko’s teamsheet for the occasion.
The young Hammers have experienced mixed results in their five pre-season fixtures thus far, with impressive 4-1 and 5-1 wins over Loughborough University and Southend United respectively countered by late 2-1 defeats at Ebbsfleet United and Crawley Town.
Last Friday saw some good attacking play – and a clinical Armstrong Okoflex brace – undone by slacker defending, a 2-2 draw against Aldershot Town encapsulating the inconsistencies which have defined the U23s' pre-season so far.
Halajko has spoken about the Academy’s hopes to arrange another pre-season fixture after the visit of Birmingham on Friday, but for now, all attentions will be on delivering a consistent standard of performance throughout the 90 minutes against the Blues.
Birmingham City recently became the 27th club in England to join Premier League 2 after being awarded Category One Academy status over the summer.
That elevation came at the end of a 2020/21 campaign which saw the young Blues crowned national champions of the Professional Development League – the equivalent competition for Category 2 academies.
Birmingham’s U23s were in rampant form in the closing stages of the campaign, winning 12 of their final 15 games in the regular season to finish second in the Northern division of the competition behind Sheffield United.
In the end-of-season national play-offs, however, having seen off Bristol City 2-1 in extra time, the Blues bettered the Blades 2-0 courtesy of an early brace from striker Adan George.
Scoring his ninth and tenth of the season that day, George finished joint-second in the competition’s scoring charts with teammate and fellow 19-year-old livewire Josh Andrews, both of whom are sure to pose a threat to the Hammers’ on Friday as they bid to push on to first-team involvement.
Former Manchester City trainee and England youth international Keyendrah Simmonds is also a promising talent. The versatile forward signed for Birmingham in February and sparkled out wide in the latter stages of the season.
That attacking trio will hope to follow in the footsteps of Birmingham academy graduates which include the likes of England internationals Jack Butland and Jude Bellingham, and Premier League stars Demarai Gray and Nathan Redmond.
Former Football League midfielder Steve Spooner is the Blues’ U23s head coach, supporting former West Ham midfielder Lee Bowyer, who manages Birmingham’s first team.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko: “We’ve got one more pre-season fixture and we’re looking to get another so two fixtures remaining which is just about right, really.
“We’ll have everyone who will have had good minutes and there are a few who have been off for a couple of weeks who we want to get a few more minutes into their legs, but apart from that everyone is looking really fit and really healthy and good to go.”
How can I follow?
Friday afternoon’s match at Rush Green Stadium will be played behind closed doors, with kick-off at 1pm, but you’ll be able to find a full match report, reaction and highlights on whufc.com over the course of the afternoon and Saturday morning.