Conor Coventry: West Ham U23s must step up as a team once again
Ahead of their final Premier League 2 game of the season, captain Conor Coventry has called on West Ham United U23s teammates to build on their recent upwards trajectory.
The young Hammers go into Friday evening’s season finale against Arsenal at Rush Green Stadium knowing that a win would secure their Division 1 status for next season.
Three points would also see the young Hammers leapfrog the Gunners into tenth position in the table, a good result given that West Ham were in 13th position – and facing relegation – as recently as mid-March.
A draw against Arsenal on Friday would mean that Coventry and his teammates would require Liverpool to stop Leicester City from winning in the Midlands on Monday afternoon to avoid the Hammers' relegation.
We showed that we can dominate a game against Arsenal and if we can do the same thing at Rush Green, hopefully we’ll get the same outcome
Premier League 2 form is certainly on West Ham’s side going into the final game against Arsenal.
In a fine run of recent performances and results, Coventry and his teammates have won four of their last seven games - including a 2-1 victory at the weekend in what was the reverse fixture against Friday’s opposition.
“It was an important win on Saturday,” the 21-year-old told whufc.com. “We knew that we had a big couple of games against Arsenal to end the season with.
"Having won the first one, we’ll be looking to beat them again and go above them in the league. It’s an opportunity to make ourselves safe and push up the table.
“It was a really good team performance on Saturday at Meadow Park, we were just missing that finishing touch at times - that’ll come - but the whole team played really well, numbers one to eleven, and everyone was at it, so it was a positive day for us.
“We showed that we can dominate a game against Arsenal and if we can do the same thing at Rush Green, hopefully we’ll get the same outcome. If we do, it takes us above them in the table, and as London rivals, that gives us even more incentive.”
Saturday's match at Meadow Park was settled by penalties at the end of both halves, with Coventry scoring West Ham’s first before the interval, before selflessly handing the ball to Ademipo Odubeko in the final minutes of the match to secure victory with his side's second.
“I’m on pens but I know Mipo likes to take them as well!” he laughed.
“I had to take the first one after he'd won it, so for the second, I thought I’d put the team before myself. I knew it was maybe tougher to score a second penalty in the same game, so I gave it to Mipo believing – knowing – he would score.”
Following the game, Arsenal U23s – managed by fan favourite Steve Bould – have recorded just one league win in their last eleven Premier League 2 games, but are likely to have their options strengthened by the return of several players from FA Youth Cup duty.
Coventry, meanwhile, has been a pivotal figure at the heart of West Ham U23s' midfield all season, with lead coach Dmitri Halajko recently describing him as the most consistent player in Premier League 2.
A number of things have changed, but overall the character and personality of the group has got so much better and that’s led to us becoming better as a team
Having made 19 appearances over the course of 2020/21, being second-top scorer with seven goals, the Republic of Ireland international’s showings have justified such a claim.
Consistently delivering captain’s performances, Coventry also spoke of his pride in the U23s’ growth as a unit ahead of what he hopes will be one final strong performance in East London.
He admitted: “Our form in the last couple of months has been really good. We’ve had some tough games in there, but we’ve only had one loss [against champions Manchester City] which was a close game as well.
“We had a lot of problems that were outside of our control at the start of the season. We know that some of our performances could’ve been better, but there were also times when circumstances seemed up against us, whether that was injuries or COVID-related factors.
“Going through that as a team really brought us more together and everyone started to really integrate as a unit. We had a lot of younger players coming in from the U18s last year, and they’ve really stepped up and become the main lads in the team as well.
“A number of things have changed, but overall the character and personality of the group has got so much better and that’s led to us becoming better as a team.
“We’ve got momentum and we believe that we can go out there and get another win.”
West Ham United U23s take on Arsenal U23s on Friday 7 May in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 7pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 6.30pm.
Please note that Academy fixtures will be played behind closed doors until further notice. Only key personnel will be admitted on site and the match will be played without supporters present, in line with safety guidelines and social distancing measures in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.