Following an enthralling display in their 5-1 win over Southend United at Roots Hall on Friday night, West Ham United U23s continue their pre-season preparations with another friendly fixture against Football League opposition.
League Two outfit Crawley Town await the young Hammers at the People’s Pension Stadium on Monday evening, another huge test for Dmitri Halajko’s young Hammers with the new Premier League 2 season less than three weeks away.
Here’s what you need to know about the game…
The story so far
West Ham United U23s’ victory over Southend United on Friday was, in a word, scintillating.
The young Hammers went into the fixture off the back of a disappointing performance in a 2-1 defeat to another National League side, Ebbsfleet United, the week prior – a game in which they never really got out of first gear.
Development squad lead coach Dmitri Halajko spoke of how the Hammers would attack the Southend fixture with extra motivation as a result, but when Matt Rush gave the Shrimpers a tenth-minute lead at Roots Hall, it looked as if Friday’s match could be going the same way.
Yet, backed by a strong travelling contingent of West Ham fans in Essex – calls and renditions of ‘Bubbles’, ‘Irons’ and ‘We’re All Going on a European Tour’ often rang out at Roots Hall – the young Hammers’ performance took flight.
They went on to hit five goals thenceforth unanswered, with Thierry Nevers bagging a brace – initially seemingly a hat-trick, but the final strike was likely an own-goal – and Jamal Baptiste and Mesaque Dju both scoring one apiece.
Halajko praised the performance at full-time, explaining how the presence of the supporters lifted the occasion – and thus the match itself – beyond merely being a pre-season exercise.
Now, facing their second fixture against senior opposition in the space of four days – a deliberate programming decision by the Academy of Football – West Ham’s U23s will want to rise to the challenge again.
Where Southend began to fall away as they began to introduce trialists and youth players from the bench, Crawley Town – fresh off the back of mid-table League Two finish in 2020/21 – are likely to possess even more depth, quality and experience in their squad.
Managed by London-born John Yems since December 2019, the Red Devils have finished their two seasons under his stewardship in 13th and 12th positions respectively.
Looking to kick on this upcoming campaign, their talented squad includes a familiar face: Canning Town-born Jack Powell, the former Academy youth team midfielder and older brother of Joe, who departed the Irons in January 2020 for Burton Albion.
Experience is rife throughout the Crawley squad, personified by long-serving No1 goalkeeper Glenn Morris, five years and over 200 games into his stay in West Sussex, and captain George Francomb, a committed and versatile midfielder whose career took flight with AFC Wimbledon prior to moving in 2018.
Club legend Dannie Bulman – in his third spell with the club as a 42-year-old – has represented Crawley in the National League, League Two and League One, making over 400 appearances for the Red Devils and becoming revered in these parts.
Their top scorer so far in pre-season is striker Tom Nichols, formerly of Exeter City, Peterborough United and Bristol Rovers. The livewire forward has three goals to his name in those outings.
Looking to kick on this coming campaign, Crawley have already won five of six pre-season fixtures this summer, the latest being a 3-0 win at Isthmian South East outfit East Grinstead Town on Saturday afternoon.
Lots of Yems’ Red Devils have received a hefty dose of on-field minutes, often an important factor in pre-season matches, albeit all against sides from the seventh tier of English football or below.
West Ham’s U23s, meanwhile, will be boisterous after their excellent showing on Friday, following a 2-1 defeat and a 4-1 win over Ebbsfleet and Loughborough University respectively.
Many of the development squad have also had first-team opportunities in pre-season and are looking sharp, fit and in-form.
What they’re saying
U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko on the run of games: “It’s going to be really tough with three games in a week. We programmed that on purpose to really push the lads and for it to be a really hard development week for them.
“They’re all against senior teams as well, all men’s teams. It’s going to be a really big physical challenge, first of all, with that quick turnaround because a lot of the lads who played tonight will play again.
“There might be a few more who drop in, but people are probably going to have to play at least two games out of the three.
“It’s a big physical challenge, and a question of whether they can keep their concentration levels and their technical levels to continue what they did on Friday night.”
How can I follow?
Crawley’s first home game of pre-season will see a welcome return of supporters to The People’s Pension Stadium.
Tickets are on sale via the club’s ticketing or over the phone, with more information available on the hosts’ website.
And if you can't be there in person, expect to see a full match report, reaction and highlights on whufc.com over the course of Monday evening and Tuesday morning.