Clinical U18s win see-saw Southampton thriller

West Ham United U18s 3-2 Southampton U18s
U18 Premier League South
Rush Green Stadium
Saturday 1 May

West Ham United U18s recorded their fourth consecutive unbeaten game in U18 Premier League South with a thrilling 3-2 win over Southampton U18s on Saturday morning.

Having been set the challenge by lead coach Kevin Keen and assistant coach Mark Phillips of avoiding defeat in their last five games of the season, it was the younger members of the side who ensured that mission remained on course against the spirited Saints.

Schoolboy striker Divin Mubama recorded a brace – his sixth and seventh goal respectively in his last five games, making him the U18s’ top scorer this season – whilst a fellow U16, midfielder George Earthy, also scored his third goal in his last two U18s games. 

U16s left-back Regan Clayton also recorded two assists on a proud day for the Academy of Football coaching staff, who continue to further such bright talents by playing them above their natural age group.

With the U23s in action at Meadow Park just hours later, the game took place at Rush Green Stadium, and saw first-team players and staff in attendance to witness the U18s’ latest triumph.

Much as they were against Norwich last week, the young Hammers were the superior team in the opening exchanges, with Remy Coddington twice coming close to scoring inside the initial quarter of the game.

Southampton then saw a one-on-one effort smothered by West Ham goalkeeper Jacob Knightbridge – who went on to be named on the bench for the U23s against Arsenal – before a crowd of defenders cleared the rebound off the line.

When West Ham’s well-deserved breakthrough arrived, it came courtesy of Mubama’s searing finish after 27 minutes.

Clearly buoyed by his recent gamut of goals, the left-footed striker brought down Clayton’s long ball inside the area and had the confidence to attempt a rising drive on his right, finding the top corner of the net with his weaker foot much to his coaches’ delight.

Just two minutes later, Earthy – once again excelling in the No10 role – received a pull-back from the buccaneering Clayton, cut back onto his right foot and fired a deflected low shot into the bottom-left corner of the net.

Having put themselves into a great position, the young Hammers then immediately let the visitors back into the game when a miscommunication in the backline allowed Kami Doyle to poach a goal back after 31 minutes.

Following the half-time interval, West Ham once again made a bright start in East London and found themselves granted a penalty when, following some impressive collective approach play, Junior Robinson was tripped inside the box.

Up stepped Mubama to clinically stroke his spot-kick into the bottom-right corner, restoring his side’s two-goal advantage in the process.

Southampton rallied and continued to test Knightbridge from range inside the final third of the game, but were only able to pull a single goal back with 20 minutes remaining when Rylee Wright’s cross to the back post was headed back across goal by Fedel Ross-Lang.

In front of a plethora of onlooking first-team players and staff, Phillips was delighted his young charges could keep their recent run going, a result which solidifies their tenth-placed standing in the league table. 

“We started the game very well and played some good football early doors, like we did last week at Norwich,” the assistant coach recalled. 

“I think we should have been more in front than we were at half-time, if I’m honest, and then they got back into the game.

“The last 20 or 25 minutes we didn’t manage the game as well as we should have done. We didn’t pass the ball or keep it well enough. I wouldn’t say we were hanging on, but we were on the backfoot.

“There have been so many games we’ve been involved with recently, like against Norwich and Southampton away, where we should have won, but only ended up getting a point. 

“We were a bit worried that might happen again, but we managed to keep them at bay for the last 20 minutes.

“The game was at Rush Green and, knowing that the first team had trained there, and that players and staff would be watching on, we wanted to make sure our players gave a good first impression.”

With a number of the U18s also featuring for the U23s side in their 2-1 win over Arsenal at Meadow Park merely hours later, Phillips believes Academy sides are seeing the benefit of pushing players on throughout the course of the 2020/21 season.

Now, the assistant coach wants to see his young players conclude their campaign away at Leicester City next weekend in a fitting manner.

He added: “As you go up the levels – having U16s playing for the U18s – it takes them a little while to get used to it, but it means that those players could have two full years, in theory with the U18s, which is really good for our future. 

“Having said that, hopefully they don’t – hopefully they have a year with us, and are then pushed on to the U23s, because that’s what it’s all about!

“After the FA Youth Cup game, we set the players the challenge of remaining undefeated for the rest of the season. 

“Leicester would be our fifth game unbeaten, if we can do that, so to end the season with such a young side being five games unbeaten stands us in good stead, going into next season with so many of those young players available to us again. 

“Hopefully, we’ll win, but just to be undefeated in those last five games is what we’re looking for really.”

West Ham United: Knightbridge, Robinson, Thomas (Bates 59), Laing (c), Clayton, Heal (Kileba 63), Trialist, Earthy, Coddington, Mubama, Perkins

Goals: Mubama 27, 52 (pen.), Earthy 29

Booked: Robinson