West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko is anticipating another closely-fought encounter when Southampton U23s visit Rush Green Stadium on Friday evening.
The young Irons returned to Premier League 2 action for the first time in over a month last week with a testing tie against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur U23s.
Despite toiling hard to create chances, neither the Hammers nor Spurs were able to fashion much by way of a clear-cut opportunity in the first half, but the game sprung to life with both sides finding better rhythm in the second.
In the end, despite Jayden Fevrier’s late goal, two quick-fire goals from the visitors midway through the second half proved decisive – a frustration that the U23s will need to learn from given how well they competed throughout the rest of the match.
With that in mind, and with memories of September’s 2-2 draw on the south coast – when West Ham’s U23s came back from two goals down to draw level late on through Oladapo Afolayan and Conor Coventry – Halajko has called on his side to dominate the decisive moments at home to Southampton U23s.
“It’ll be another good game,” the U23s lead coach told whufc.com.
“We drew with them the first time we played them and it was a really close game. They were far better than us in the first half, but in the second half we were better than them.
“It was a real, tight contest, so I expect it’ll be another tight game of fine margins, and there will be some key moments that decide the game.
“We just need to make sure that we are – and what we need to get better at is – executing those key moments.
“For the majority of our games this season, we’ve been as good as, if not better than, the opposition, but executing those key moments will be key in such tight games of football.”
Having returned to match action later than their high-flying opposition, the young Hammers did well to physically match Tottenham U23s last week, who – unlike West Ham U23s – had played a competitive fixture since the Christmas break.
We’ll certainly be sharper than we were, and hopefully that means we can bring a bit more intensity to our game
Against Southampton, however, the young Hammers are facing a set of players who themselves have not seen competitive action since Saturday 12 December 2020 – a lengthy pause in their fixture schedule.
Halajko believes his side will be feeling sharper with each week that passes, and will hope they can show that against the Saints on Friday.
He explained: “We’ll be better for it. We’ll be better for the Spurs game last week, and another week’s worth of training this week.
“We’ll certainly be sharper than we were, and hopefully that means we can bring a bit more intensity to our game.”
West Ham United Under-23s take on Southampton Under-23s on Friday 28 January in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 7pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 6.30pm.
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.