As far as competitive debuts go, you’d do well to top Armstrong Okoflex’s for West Ham United U23s on Monday evening.
Playing on the London Stadium surface for the first time in front of West Ham supporters, the exciting young talent scored an opening-day hat-trick to get West Ham’s development squad off to the best possible start in Premier League 2 Division 1.
That it came as part of a dazzling 6-1 victory – with Mipo Odubeko’s first-half goal added to in the second period by Okoflex’s treble, Conor Coventry and Thierry Nevers – against former club Arsenal simply added to the occasion.
With typical modesty, however, the 19-year-old attributed his hat-trick to the collective performance of the team.
“It was a good game and a good start for me and the team,” Okoflex told West Ham TV. “We’ve worked hard in pre-season and that showed in the first game of the season, so I’m pleased for the whole team.
“In the first half, we scored our first goal from a high press. I think it probably took half-time for the coaches to show us how we should be pressing down and, with my goal and Conor’s goal and others, we won the ball back with a high press and came out and scored.
"We had a good half-time team talk and we came out and delivered what the coaches told us.
“It was an all-round good day. I even had some family and friends here and saw them after the game, so it felt kind of special, especially because it was against Arsenal – when I was younger I was in their academy.
“I knew their team and their coaches [personally], so it was an all-round special night for me and I enjoyed playing in this beautiful stadium.”
The forward, supported by the likes of Andriy Yarmolenko and Odubeko in a front three, as well as late substitutes Dan Chesters and Nevers, appreciated playing his part in a devastating display in front of goal.
He added: “We have a very good attack. As you can see, we’ve got competition for places.
“The likes of Mipo up top scored today, Yarmolenko came down and showed his quality as well, then Thierry and Dan Chesters came off the bench as well – we have a lot of attacking threats! It’s great to be a part of that.”
Okoflex’s treble arrived at the culmination of a pre-season in which the Republic of Ireland youth international finished as the U23s’ joint-top scorer (with three) and scored his opening goal for the West Ham United first-team in their win at Celtic.
Taking centre stage once again at London Stadium in front of the watching David Moyes and assistant Stuart Pearce, the forward hopes to have impressed in other areas of his game.
“It’s also about the whole performance,” he noted. “They’re also looking at my work ethic, how I am off the ball, whether I’m doing my defensive duties, running behind, so a hat-trick is good but it’s also the overall play they’ll look at just as much.”
As for the campaign ahead, Okoflex now hopes that he and his U23s teammates can maintain their opening-day momentum when they travel to Brighton & Hove Albion in Premier League 2 on Friday evening.
“We have a target and we want to start the season well,” he explained. “We’ve taken our pre-season form into the season, so we’re just going to go to Brighton and look to win again.
“With our squad depth, there are some very good players who didn’t make the squad tonight, which just shows how much depth and talent we have in our squad right now. We’re looking to just continue building on this good form.”