Dmitri Halajko felt Aldershot Town provided a perfect pre-season test for his West Ham United U23s on Friday evening.
The Shots, who compete in the National League, were a strong, well-organised side who tested the young Hammers physically and posed a significant threat from set plays.
While West Ham played the more attractive football at Rush Green Stadium, Aldershot’s slightly simpler approach made for an interesting and competitive clash of styles.
The result was a 2-2 draw, with two clinical Armstrong Okoflex strikes bookending goals from Toby Edser and Kevin Lokko – the first from an errant pass out of defence and the second a powerful header from a short corner.
Speaking to West Ham TV, lead coach Halajko felt his players would learn from the experience of facing an effective Aldershot team managed by former Academy of Football coach Danny Searle.
Arthur Masuaku always works hard and sets high standards and encourages the lads, which only makes it better for them when they see
“It was a really competitive game,” he confirmed. “We dominated the middle part of the pitch and I was really happy with our build-up play and our possession, and we really dominated the ball, but the penalty boxes are where we let ourselves down.
“I felt we could have been a little bit more clinical and a little bit harder to beat, so those are our areas to improve. We’ve seen some of our build-up play improve from previous weeks, so we’re pleased with that, but there are some other areas we want to get better at.
“I thought that the main area where they out-performed us was set plays. We didn’t really capitalise on any of ours and any time they had one of theirs they had a threat.
“We haven’t worked on it too much in training yet as we’ve been working on our build-up play and our shape, but that’s something we’ll definitely be sharpening up in the next few weeks, so hopefully we’ll be a lot harder to beat from set plays in the season than we were tonight.”
Two players who came out of the game with credit from Halajko were Okoflex, who took his personal tally to four pre-season goals with two unerring right-foot finishes, and Arthur Masuaku, who returned to action with a 45-minute appearance that led his younger teammates by example.
“His finishing is fantastic,” the lead coach observed of Okoflex. “When he came on trial from Celtic, that was the first thing that really caught our eye in training, which was his finishing.
“He’s very clinical with really good technique and he’s shown that again tonight. He only had a couple of really clear-cut chances and he certainly made them count.
“Every time he comes back from injury, Arthur normally has a game or a few training sessions with us and he’s always a model pro. He always works hard and sets high standards and encourages the lads, which only makes it better for them when they see and work alongside a top professional and see what it’s like to be at that level.”
With a little over a fortnight left until the Premier League 2 Division 1 season opens with the visit of Arsenal to London Stadium on Monday 16 August, Halajko feels his squad is shaping up well, but there is still plenty of work to do to finalise preparations for the competitive campaign ahead.
“We’ve got one more pre-season fixture and we’re looking to get another so two fixtures remaining which is just about right, really,” he explained.
“We’ll have everyone who will have had good minutes and there are a few who have been off for a couple of weeks who we want to get a few more minutes into their legs, but apart from that everyone is looking really fit and really healthy and good to go.”