Friday 03 Dec
Updated Friday 03 Dec 08:00

Keenan Forson: West Ham United U23s are showing their true selves this season

Keenan Forson

There are two metrics by which Academy footballers are judged: the results they produce, like everyone who plays the sport; but also the progress they are seen to be making, as they seek to develop into potential first-team players.

The difference between West Ham United U23s’ start to last season – their first back in the top flight of Premier League 2 – and this campaign has been stark.

By the beginning of December in 2020/21, the development squad had just recorded their first Premier League 2 win of the season – a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Manchester United U23s at Rush Green - but had struggled to convert further chances into points. 

By the beginning of December in 2021/22, they have recorded nine victories from their first 13 games, and currently sit top of the league, the young Hammers quite clearly carrying forwards the lessons they learned from last.

As his team turn their attentions to a Premier League Cup group-stage match against Swansea City at Landore Training Centre, young midfielder Keenan Forson feels we are now seeing a true reflection of the potential that this U23s squad possesses.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s just a real difference from last year!” the 20-year-old smiled. 

“We’re all so focused and our creativity is up there. Everyone’s bringing their own selves into our performances, and it’s clearly working for us.”

If another marker of a good team is scoring victories even when not playing to their best, the young Hammers’ last game – a tight 1-0 win Blackburn Rovers, which they finished a man down – is indicative of such a quality.

“It was a good feeling to go top, to be honest,” Forson reflected. “The performance against Blackburn wasn’t great, but we managed to grind out a result. 

“Going down to ten men and still winning the game showed that the team were working hard for each other – we still managed to get a clean sheet.

“It is a positive. It happens in football, sometimes. Sometimes we might not be fully at it, but to grind out a result and to get a win just shows that we have a strong mindset and we run hard for each other. 

“We’ve just got to keep going and hopefully stay near the top of our game. We need to stay consistent.”

A buoyant mood permeates the U23s camp as, not only have they won nine of their last eleven games in all competitions, but two regulars – attackers Dan Chesters and Sonny Perkins – have made first-team debuts in the UEFA Europa League.

Forson was delighted to see both players make their senior bows and, blessed with another opportunity to impress on Friday, is hoping to take his own chance when it arrives.

“Congratulations to Sonny, coming on, obviously – though he should have scored!” the midfielder joked, referring to a Perkins’ first touch against Rapid Vienna.

“With both him and Dan making their debuts, there are clearly always opportunities here. 

“I feel like, if you play well, stay consistent and catch the manager’s eye, hopefully you’ll get an opportunity at the right moment – Sonny and Dan have both clearly taken theirs.”

West Ham United U23s’  Premier League Cup match against Swansea City U23s will be played behind-closed-doors at Landore Training Centre, kicking off at 12pm on Friday 3 December. 

You can still follow proceedings, however, with our live blog on from 11.30am and Twitter updates, and there will be post-match reaction and highlights pieces available over Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.