Dmitri Halajko: West Ham United U23s showed an abundance of killer instinct


Dmitri Halajko

Lead coach Dmitri Halajko cut a proud figure at full-time following West Ham United U23s’ magnificent opening-day win over Arsenal in Premier League 2 Division 1.

In front of over a thousand supporters present at London Stadium – the development squad's first home crowd since March of last year – the young Hammers took an early lead in the first half thanks to Mipo Odubeko’s thumping finish, before turning on the style in the second half.

A hat-trick from Armstrong Okoflex on his competitive U23s debut was added to by strikes from Conor Coventry and fellow debutant Thierry Nevers in a crushing 6-1 win – every goal one of really high quality.

Even an injury-time penalty from Arsenal's Miguel Azeez could not dampen the Hammers’ spirits, as they got off their 2021/22 Premier League 2 campaign in a wholly enjoyable and promising fashion.

“I think it took us until the second half to really get going and really get a hold of the game,” Halajko told “The first half we couldn’t really get tight enough to Arsenal. 

“At half-time, we addressed that and worked out how we wanted to go about our second half, and as soon as we had that better structure to play from, I think we were outstanding – far better than them – and showed our quality.

“Our finishing and our build-up play was top-drawer. For Armstrong to get a hat-trick and Thierry to get a goal after just coming onto the pitch… Conor’s goal was a lovely goal as well, Mipo’s was another good finish, so all of the goals were of a real high quality. There wasn’t a bad goal out there. 

“We’ve been critical of the lads in the past of dominating games with the ball but not having any killer instinct or cutting edge at the top end of the pitch. We certainly had that today – we had an abundance of killer instinct up there.”

We’ve got confidence in him [Okoflex] scoring goals and taking chances, without a shadow of a doubt – that’s what we brought him here to do

Dmitri Halajko

After finishing top scorer for the U23s in pre-season and also netting his maiden first-team goal at former club Celtic, Okoflex’s finishing from the left flank stood out on a night of brilliant performances.

Halajko commented: “Armstrong’s finishing is a real strong point of his. When he gets into the final third, he’s a very dangerous player. We wanted to do that tonight and he managed to take his chances. 

“We’ve got confidence in him scoring goals and taking chances, without a shadow of a doubt – that’s what we brought him here to do. He’s got off the mark and deserved his hat-trick, and hopefully there’s more to come.”


West Ham U23s celebrate

The Hammers’ starting eleven for the fixture was a strong one, bolstered by the inclusion of the likes of Arthur Masuaku, Andriy Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini, who all picked up valuable match minutes at London Stadium.

Equally as impressive in Halajko’s eyes, however, were the impacts made by late substitutes Nevers – who scored shortly after coming on – and Dan Chesters, who grabbed two assists inside a 15-minute cameo through two fine deliveries into the box.

“It always helps [working with senior players],” Halajko said. “They pass on their experience and they can help the younger lads, and they can set the standard and provide an example. 

“The other nice thing to see as well was that when some of the senior players came off the pitch and some of the younger ones came on, and they only had 15 or 20 minutes to impress, they really took that opportunity. The players who came off the bench impacted the game massively.”

As for the good turnout from the Claret and Blue Army, Halajko hailed their influence on events inside London Stadium.

He smiled: “I think it definitely spurred us on. If we didn’t have fans in here, I think at two or three-nil, the game naturally peters out, but I think the lads got a reaction from the fans when the goals started to go in that made them want to push for more. 

“I think we saw that in the Premier League with fans back in this week. There’s been more goals and more attacking play, and I certainly thought that affected us tonight.”

Next up for West Ham United U23s is a trip to Brighton & Hove Albion U23s on Friday night.