West Ham United’s development squad face a test of their resilience when they return to Premier League 2 action on Friday afternoon, according to U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko.
The young Hammers have now gone over a month since their last competitive fixture – a 2-1 defeat away at Everton on Monday 14 December 2020.
West Ham U23s were due to play Manchester City U23s the following week, but that fixture was later postponed as a precautionary measure and the Academy of Football’s facilities closed earlier than initially planned for Christmas.
Having only returned to training earlier this month, the U23s will have had less time to get back up-to-speed than their opposition on Friday – a Tottenham Hotspur U23s team who ran riot against Brighton & Hove Albion last week, winning 5-1 away from home.
With the visitors therefore likely to be further ahead in their physical preparations for Friday’s game at Rush Green Stadium, Hammers coach Halajko has called on his players to compensate by showing their hunger to return to the football pitch.
“The boys have missed playing football, so they’re really hungry,” he told whufc.com.
“We’ve had quite a long break now because of COVID complications and the Christmas break, and it’s been a long lay-off.
“The players won’t have trained a lot heading into Friday’s match so we’re anticipating a really tough physical challenge first and foremost, because they won’t have had a large amount of training load in their legs.
“It’s going to be one where they have to show a lot of character and determination just to get through the game from a physical point of view – but we know our players possess those qualities.”
Due to the fixture rearrangements, the Hammers have played slightly fewer than half of their Premier League 2 Division 1 matches so far this season, but head into 2021 looking to truly kickstart their season in turns of results.
A common theme of their performances in the division has been a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, one which manifested itself in the reverse fixture at Tottenham Hotspur Training Ground in September.
Back then, West Ham U23s were much the better side in the opening exchanges and missed several presentable opportunities, only to concede a set-piece goal and – to put an unfair glean on the scoreline – two late strikes.
Halajko believes, therefore, that Friday’s game represents an opportunity to see how much his young players have learned since that encounter.
He recalled: “I think up until the 55th minute we were very dominant and by far the better team. We went in at half-time 0-0 and we were so disappointed because we felt like we deserved to be at least a goal in front, if not more.
“That was one of those games where we didn’t capitalise on all of our good play, and then we got caught with a bit of a sucker-punch because of that.
“Friday’s going to be a great test to see if we’ve learned from that day.”
West Ham United Under-23s take on Tottenham Hotspur Under-23s on Friday 21 December 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.