West Ham United U23s defender Levi Laing recognised that, while collective improvement will be required in the coming weeks, Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Ebbsfleet United should be viewed in the wider context of a constructive pre-season.
The young Hammers travelled to the Kuflink Stadium for their second pre-season fixture of the 2021/22 campaign, seeking to ramp up their summer preparations and build on last weekend’s 4-1 win over Loughborough University.
In Kent, however, they faced sterner opposition, as Ebbsfleet started much the brighter side and dominated possession and chances in the first half, deservedly leading 1-0 at the break.
West Ham’s U23s hauled themselves level immediately after the restart through Nathan Holland but, despite creating arguably the better chances thereon in, slipped to defeat in the closing stages after conceding to a direct Ebbsfleet pass and finish.
For 18-year-old Laing, who put pen-to-paper on his first professional contract with the Club over the summer and entered the field shortly after the hour mark at a balmy Kuflink Stadium, the fixture - played in sweltering conditions - was a reminder of the demands that professional football can exert.
“Today was a good learning curve,” the centre-back told whufc.com at full-time. “We just weren’t up to the standard required and Ebbsfleet were just a better team than us on the day.
“We know that we should have moved the ball quicker and finished off our chances when they arrived, but we will learn from our mistakes as a squad, and we will take it as a learning experience.
“It was a very good test in pre-season because you can see how the physical side and the technical side of the game can differ between U23s football and professional football. You see how much quicker it is and how much more physically ready we need to be.
“It was good to get more minutes in the tank and keep pushing on this pre-season, taking every game as it comes. Hopefully, we’ll learn from today and win the next game.”
Laing was one of a raft of substitutes introduced 15 minutes into the second half as U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko ensured his entire squad received valuable playing minutes in the searing Kent sunshine.
It’s been good to adapt to a new Club, and playing full-time in the U23s has been good. It’s been technically quicker and everyone’s getting physically better as pre-season goes on
The teenage defender first started representing West Ham in January, arriving on trial as an U18 player after a lengthy spell with Arsenal before signing Scholarship terms in east London in March.
Having stepped up once more, for Laing, the adoption of permanent U23s squad status has been an enjoyable – if taxing, given the nature of pre-season – transition.
“The first few weeks have been hard – there’s always a lot of running in pre-season!” he joked. “But it’s been fun at the same time.
“It’s been good to adapt to a new Club, and playing full-time in the U23s has been good. It’s been technically quicker and everyone’s getting physically better as pre-season goes on, so everything’s been more demanding. I’m enjoying the new challenge.
“I just want to get more minutes and continue showcasing my ability on and off the ball. I want to get more minutes in my legs, ready for the first game of the season in August.”
Next up in a busy pre-season programme for West Ham United U23s is a trip to Southend United's Roots Hall on Friday 23 July.