West Ham United U23s will tackle a third pre-season fixture against senior opposition in the space of seven days when they play host to Vanarama National League outfit Aldershot Town on Friday evening.
Here’s the full low-down on the young Hammers’ fifth fixture of their pre-season campaign…
The story so far
West Ham United U23s have endured mixed fortunes in terms of results during pre-season so far, but lead coach Dmitri Halajko has been relatively pleased by the standard of their displays.
The development squad are building up to their competitive Premier League 2 season opener against Arsenal at London Stadium on the evening of Monday 16 August.
And with the fresh 2021/22 campaign now well and truly on the horizon, West Ham’s U23s have been stepping up their preparations with a packed fixture programme designed to test the players both physically and mentally.
Following a 4-1 win over Loughborough University and a 2-1 defeat at Ebbsfleet United in the opening weeks of pre-season, the U23s travelled to Roots Hall last Friday night to take on Southend United in front of a vociferous home support.
Despite falling behind early on, the young Irons stepped up their game in the second half to win 5-1, thanks to goals from Thierry Nevers (two), Jamal Baptiste, Mesaque Dju and an own-goal.
Three days later, on Monday evening, a trip to League Two side Crawley Town – at another well-attended ground, The People’s Pension Stadium – saw a similar pattern unfurl, with the Red Devils firmly on top and a goal to the good by the break.
Yet West Ham rallied at half-time, deservedly equalised through Nevers, created plenty of chances – but conceded a scruffy goal ten minutes before full-time, against the run of play.
Nevertheless, the performance was largely praised by Halajko, who felt that the only disappointment in an otherwise-encouraging display was that crucial lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.
The Hammers will want to correct that aspect when they welcome Aldershot Town to Rush Green Stadium on Friday evening, their first home pre-season fixture of the campaign.
In the opposition dugout on Friday night will be a familiar face to some of the young Hammers, with former Academy of Football coach Danny Searle – at West Ham for just shy of six years – appointed Aldershot manager two years ago.
Head of U15s-U18s coaching at Chadwell Heath until June 2017, Searle has since managed Braintree Town before going on to lead The Shots to 18th and 15th-placed finishes (the former in a truncated season) in the National League.
Aldershot have, of course, been in that fifth tier of English football since 2013, but came close to re-entering the Football League with play-off defeats in 2017 and 2018.
The following year saw The Shots almost relegated from the National League but, due to Gateshead being administratively relegated, they enjoyed a reprieve. Given that second chance, the appointment of Searle has led to better fortunes and progress they will hope to sustain this year.
Former Rangers, Leeds and Fulham striker Ross McCormack – who has over 150 senior career goals to his name – is the standout name for The Shots, with former Arsenal and Watford forward Kaylen Hinds also on their books.
With two wins and two defeats in four pre-season games, establishing consistency will be the aim for West Ham’s U23s in their remaining fixtures.
Aldershot, meanwhile, have seemingly found just that, with three wins from their four pre-season games thus far – including a remarkable 7-5 win over Farnborough FC two weeks ago!
The Shots were held 0-0 on Tuesday, however, by Isthmian League Premier Division team Haringey Borough, a match which saw them dominate but – similarly to the young Hammers – struggle to convert that aspect into goals.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko: “We’ll want to try and maintain the consistent levels we’ve shown at times.
“It’s our third game in seven days, which is a physical challenge in itself, but we’ll then need to bring our energy levels and high quality of football right from the first minute to the last minute rather than have up and down patches within the game.
“We’ll try to dominate, take the game to them, and hopefully that’s what we’ll achieve.”
How can I follow?
The match at Rush Green Stadium will be played behind closed doors, with kick-off at 7pm, but you’ll be able to find a full match report, reaction and highlights on whufc.com over the course of Friday evening and Saturday morning.