Leicester City U18s 1-1 West Ham United U18s
U18 Premier League South
Rush Green Stadium
Saturday 8 May
West Ham United’s youth team were held to a 1-1 draw away at Leicester City on Saturday, concluding their 2020/21 season five games unbeaten in U18 Premier League South.
Recently challenged by lead coach Kevin Keen and assistant coach Mark Phillips to avoid defeat in those five fixtures, the U18s completed that task with a well-earned point in the Midlands, but will reflect on spurned opportunities to take all three.
The young Hammers were already assured of their tenth-placed finish in the table ahead of the match, but can consider themselves unfortunate not to have made it three wins from their final five fixtures.
Despite West Ham dominating the early exchanges, Leicester took the lead in the seventh minute of the game thanks to an accurate Terell Pennant cross and a fine volley from Will Russ which gave Jacob Knightbridge little chance in the visitors’ net.
The Hammers were not deterred by the early concession nor the heavy rain, however, and continued to create plenty of shooting opportunities, without quite managing to find the requisite finishing touch.
When their goal did arrive after 25 minutes, it was a superb one, a free-flowing move from back-to-front instigated by defender Junior Robinson, who exchanged passes with Remy Coddington on the halfway line.
Racing onto the return, the right-back carried the ball into the Leicester half, raced away from his marker and ran inside, before playing an excellent through-ball to U16s midfielder George Earthy, who had bent a run in from the opposite flank.
The playmaker allowed the ball to roll across his body and, after allowing Leicester goalkeeper Arlo Doherty to go to ground, emphatically slid the ball past him from an acute angle – Earthy’s fourth goal in his last five games, and fifth of the season overall.
Soon after, the Hammers were given even more encouragement when the Foxes had a man dismissed, Freddie Cook seeing a straight red card five minutes before the interval.
That incident set the tone for a counter-attacking performance from the Leicester in the second half, two banks of four making it difficult for West Ham to break their stubborn opposition down.
Despite that, however, the Hammers were awarded two penalty kicks during the second half, but U18s top scorer Divin Mubama twice saw his effort denied.
George has really come to the fore lately. He’s an attacking midfield player and someone who’s very creative and good technically
West Ham were ultimately forced to settle for a point amidst the downpour in Leicester, with Keen feeling ambivalent following the game.
“It was pretty similar to a lot of games we’ve seen this season,” the lead coach told whufc.com.
“We played fantastically in the first half – we played some of the best football I’ve seen this season really, with a young team. We created a lot of chances and we dominated the first half.
“In the second half, I’m sure in the long-term, Divin will learn from those penalties and gain something from the experience, but we probably didn’t do enough to break Leicester down.”
Earthy’s goal drew high praise from Keen, with the midfielder one of several schoolboys – alongside fellow starters Mubama and full-back Regan Clayton – to have made 15 or more appearances in Claret and Blue in U18 Premier League South this season.
Keen confirmed: “Our equaliser was a brilliant goal – Junior Robinson made a great run to play George Earthy through, and George's five for the season is a fantastic return for an U16s midfielder.
“Him, Regan and Divin have played a lot of games for the U18s this year, which is unusual for an U18 youth team. It shows what we think of them.
“George has really come to the fore lately. He’s an attacking midfield player and someone who’s very creative and good technically, who we think has got a real chance.”
As for his team’s unbeaten run, Keen was pleased to see his players rise to his challenge, but admitted – given the quality of their performances – that he would have hoped for a greater return than two wins from the five games.
“I think they won’t realise how well they’ve done,” he concluded.
“We haven’t previously gone all season four games unbeaten, so to go five, at the end of the campaign, with a really young team is a really good achievement.
“I’m proud but – and there’s often been a ‘but’ this season – we should have won today, and we should have beaten Norwich two weeks ago [a 3-3 draw].
“I’m proud of the fact that this young team has gone the last five games of the season unbeaten, and we’ll carry that into next year with the new group of players.”
West Ham United U18s: Knightbridge; Robinson (Falase 79), Casey, Laing (c), Clayton, Heal (Tarima 69), Trialist (Trialist 70), Earthy, Coddington, Mubama, Perkins
Goal: Earthy 25
Booked: Heal, Clayton, Falase