An enforced stop-start season may have hindered efforts in development football across the country, but Dmitri Halajko feels his side will have a point to prove when they return to action on Friday afternoon.
West Ham United U23s’ first Premier League 2 game in a fortnight sees them make the long trip north to the Lancashire FA County Ground, where they will face Blackburn Rovers U23s.
Precautionary measures during the pandemic have meant that the young Hammers – in a similar story to most Academy sides – have been able to play only three competitive fixtures in their last seven weeks.
Their last outing saw them suffer a seventh-minute red card against Brighton & Hove Albion U23s on the south coast, who made their numerical advantage count with a clinical display in a 6-1 win.
Having had two weeks to recover from that encounter, however, Halajko believes his players have made the most of the last two weeks – and could demonstrate that on Friday.
“It’s good because we’ve had a nice training period,” Halajko told whufc.com. “We weren’t as sharp beforehand as we’d have liked to have been. We had an enforced fixture break due to COVID.
“I still think there’s more to come from us: more fitness, more sharpness, more technical competence to move up to that next level. Two weeks’ worth of training should’ve really helped us with that.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s game, the U23s will be keen to attain a result against a Blackburn U23s side they were unlucky not to beat in east London in October.
A 0-0 draw of very few chances yielded the better ones for the side in Claret and Blue, with Kamarai Swyer coming closest following a good save by the Blackburn goalkeeper.
Friday’s hosts – managed by former Rovers and Northern Ireland midfielder Damien Johnson – have since been challenging near the top of the Premier League 2 table, and currently third, three points off the top.
I thought the last game we played against them was very close. It ended up as a draw, but we’ll need better than that if we’re going to improve and turn our season around
In contrast, West Ham’s U23s – a markedly more youthful outfit – will go out in search of a third league win this term, knowing that, with just under half the season to go, they must begin to pick up points to salvage their top-flight status.
Halajko said of Blackburn: “They’re up near the top of the league and they’re quite an experienced team for this level.
“It’ll be a tough challenge for us, as I think we’ll probably be a little bit younger than them and a little bit less experienced. They’re flying high near the top of the league and we’re struggling at the bottom in terms results-wise.
“It’ll be another tough game. I thought the last game we played against them was very close. It ended up as a draw, but we’ll need better than that if we’re going to improve and turn our season around.”
West Ham United U23s take on Blackburn Rovers U23s on Friday 19 February 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.