West Ham United U23s make the short journey east to Ebbsfleet United’s Kuflink Stadium on Saturday afternoon for their second pre-season friendly of the new 2021/22 season.
The story so far
The young Hammers have enjoyed a productive four weeks of pre-season training thus far, commencing their preparations at Chadwell Heath two weeks earlier than many other development squads across the country to properly attack the new campaign.
That spell was rounded off with a pre-season training camp at the world-class facilities of Loughborough University last week, culminating in a first friendly match – a convincing 4-1 victory – over the University’s Football Club last week.
Many of those players involved last week went on to enjoy first-team experiences in midweek with the concurrent friendlies at Leyton Orient and Northampton Town. Six youngsters in total made their non-competitive first-team debuts.
Now, with the first-team not having a game this weekend, their focus will return to gearing up for the new Premier League 2 season, which kicks off in mid-August.
National League South side Ebbsfleet United – who sat eighth in English football’s seventh tier, prior to their 2020/21 campaign’s early curtailment – will provide stiff opposition for West Ham’s U23s.
Founded some 75 years ago in 1946, ‘The Fleet’ – a nickname referring to their original name of Gravesend & Northfleet, which changed in 2007 prior to the well-publicised takeover of web-based venture MyFootballClub – possess plenty of talented players amongst their ranks.
Managed since last summer by Dennis Kutrieb – formerly of Tennis Borussia Berlin, whom he propelled up the German fifth tier – Ebbsfleet’s talisman is former Manchester United youngster Lee Martin, who made three appearances for the Red Devils and has over 250 matches’ worth of Football League experience to his name.
Goalscorers-in-chief Rakish Bingham – formerly of Wigan Athletic, Hartlepool United and Doncaster Rovers – and Dominic Poleon are both Newham-born, whilst Ebbsfleet could name plenty of players with substantial senior experience including former England youth internationals Chris Solly and Joe Martin, the latter once of Tottenham Hotspur.
After the frustration of seeing their last campaign cut short by the ramifications of the global pandemic, boasting such experienced professionals mean Ebbsfleet United are sure to provide a valuable developmental experience for Dmitri Halajko’s West Ham U23s.
Last time out…
Last time around, West Ham United U23s kicked off their pre-season friendly schedule with an emphatic 4-1 win over Loughborough University.
For the likes of summer signings Thierry Nevers and Armstrong Oko-Flex, the match marked a first appearance in Claret and Blue, with both young forwards looking threatening throughout and the latter finding the back of the net through a penalty he himself had won following a clever exchange with Amadou Diallo.
England youth international Diallo, whose previous season was heavily disrupted by injury, had got the game off to a sensational start with a penetrative run from the halfway line and a precise finish across goal after just two minutes.
Bernardo Rosa made it 3-0 to West Ham following a fortunate deflection into his path, and after Loughborough pulled a goal back midway through the second period and a number of U18s players had entered the fray from the bench, Mesaque Dju clipped in a close-range clincher in the game’s final knockings.
What they’re saying
U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko said of the friendly in Loughborough: “As university teams go, they’re probably the best in the country, so it was a good game.
“It was a tight match. Our quality shone through in the end, but it wasn’t easy and we had to work hard and press after the ball.
"We couldn’t break them down with ease – we had to work the ball with quality to break them down. At times we did that, and that was good.
“[Against Ebbsfleet], it’ll be really interesting to see if we can raise our level from what we did last week.”
How can I follow the game?
Tickets are still available via the Ebbsfleet United website. The Kuflink Stadium's away end is typically the open-air Swanscombe End, although supporters are able to purchase tickets in any stand with availability.
Tickets may also be available to purchase on the day at the Stadium's ticket kiosk, subject to availability and government guidance with respect to capacity.
Of course, if you’re not able to make it down to Gravesend in Kent, expect to see a full match report, reaction and highlights on whufc.com over the course of the weekend.