West Ham United U23s could celebrate a job well done after a comprehensive display in Friday evening’s 5-1 pre-season victory at Southend United.
And lead coach Dmitri Halajko believes the root of the performance stemmed from the disappointment his young charges felt in succumbing to a late 2-1 defeat to Ebbsfleet United the previous weekend.
The Hammers were admittedly off-key that day, and made a tetchy start at Roots Hall on Friday, going a goal down inside the opening quarter of the game.
But Halajko’s players equalised ten minutes later through Thierry Nevers’ first goal for the Club and, visibly growing in confidence, put on a display of real invention to add four more to their tally: another for Nevers, one apiece for Jamal Baptiste and Mesaque Dju, and a late own-goal, initially credit to Nevers before being awarded to Southend 'keeper Harry Seaden upon review.
Halajko told whufc.com: “It was a really strong performance, and a really positive performance.
“We’re happy with the progress we’ve made from last week. It’s been a hard week on the training pitch, but I think it was a really good performance at the end of it.
“Their mindset going into this week, going into the game, was wanting to put things right. The Ebbsfleet game really hurt them last week. Although it was only a friendly, we didn’t take it as one – we never do, especially when there are fans watching.
“We wanted to put it right and I feel like we made big, big strides in doing that tonight with a great performance. We went 1-0 down, but then from that showed great character with some really good play and really good goals.
“All of the lads got 90 minutes as well for the first time in pre-season, so to put in a performance like that and still be going strong and getting goals towards the end, when you’re playing your first 90, is really impressive.”
While there were plenty of standout performers on show in Claret and Blue, Nevers will undoubtedly steal the headlines for his treble on the night - albeit with the with striker joking at full-time that the final one might not have been his!
Having played in all three positions across an attacking trio, Friday marked the first occasion Nevers has started as the U23s' outright No9 – and his two poachers’ headers, plus his important role in forcing the fifth and final goal, were evidence of his offensive quality.
“I thought other parts of Thierry’s game were really good as well,” Halajko added. “I thought he pressed really well and that really put Southend on the back foot straight away, and he made good runs in behind.
“He was a goal threat and scored his two goals also. His all-round game really gave them problems tonight and he can be really proud of what he did.”
Friday also marked the return of supporters to Roots Hall, with Southend’s in fine voice – but matched in an almost 2,000-strong attendance by a visiting West Ham crowd who backed their youngsters vociferously.
We had so many fans who had paid to come and watch us play. That’s massive for our lads. That gave them a lift straight away because that’s new to many of them
That the Academy players were able to celebrate each successful tackle, pass or goal – as well as the full-time result – in front of West Ham’s supporters made it all the more special an occasion for them, according to the lead coach.
“The lads loved it – they absolutely loved it,” Halajko beamed.
“We had so many fans who had paid to come and watch us play. That’s massive for our lads. That gave them a lift straight away because that’s new to many of them – they don’t get that all the time. The fact that people made the effort to come and see them really spurred them on.
“You could see how happy they were when they scored, or at the end of the game, that they’d put on a good performance for them. That made it so much more special for the lads.”
Next up for West Ham U23s is a pre-season fixture at Crawley Town's Broadfield Stadium on Monday evening.