West Ham United U23s v Blackburn Rovers U23s – All You Need To Know
Having briefly tasted top spot in Premier League 2 Division 1 last weekend, West Ham United U23s will be hoping to return to the table summit when they host Blackburn Rovers U23s on Friday evening.
Mark Robson’s young Hammers will be hoping to keep the pressure up on leaders Arsenal, who play at the same time against Derby County and start the matchday round one point ahead of West Ham, having netted a late winner themselves against Rovers on Monday.
Here’s everything you need to know about the behind-closed-doors fixture…
The story so far
Make no mistake about it: West Ham United U23s’ performance in a 1-0 win over reigning Premier League 2 champions Manchester City U23s last weekend had all the hallmarks of a team ready to compete at the very top of their division.
The Hammers’ tactical awareness, mental resilience and technical proficiency shone throughout the 90 minutes of a high-quality match characterised by two strong teams mostly cancelling one another out.
It says it all, however, that despite having just 48 per cent of the possession, West Ham created 14 shooting opportunities on the day to City’s three, with goalkeeper Krisztian Hegyi not facing a single shot on target throughout the game.
As it was, Sonny Perkins’ fifth goal for the U23s – an impressive feat, given that the 17-year-old only made his debut at this level in mid-September – was enough to settle the score in just the second minute.
The result proved the perfect tonic for new lead coach Mark Robson in his first game in charge, and briefly moved the Hammers – now firmly established as title contenders – up to the top of the table, prior to Arsenal’s late victory two days later.
With eight wins from eight home games so far this season – and 25 goals scored from those fixtures – the young Hammers are proving a force to be reckoned with in east London.
A chance to further that fine home form – and continue to apply pressure at the top of the table – arrives in the form of Blackburn Rovers U23s, who have endured a challenging start to their league season.
But Premier League 2 fixtures have a habit of tearing up the form book at the least-expected moments, so Robson is likely reaffirm to his Hammers the need to retain focus ahead of Friday’s latest test.
Rovers come into Friday’s game in 13th place in the table, off the back of just two wins from their 12 games in Premier League 2 – but both of those victories, in impressive circumstances, came in London.
Surprise wins over Crystal Palace and Chelsea were both founded on a defensive resilience that Blackburn, as the team who have conceded the most goals in the division so far (33, four more than Leeds United), have struggled to consistently replicate.
They have, however, scored the joint-seventh most goals (20) in those games, with 19-year-old midfielder Sam Burns enjoying a sterling campaign at U23s level, hitting seven goals in eight league appearances, and 12 goals in all competitions.
Led by a new U23s coach themselves in former Manchester and Stoke City player Mike Sheron – who succeeded Billy Barr in September – Blackburn’s spirited young squad came extremely close to denying West Ham’s title rivals Arsenal last time out, only to fall to Folarin Balogun’s 89th-minute goal in a 3-2 defeat.
In a tight Premier League 2 table, a single win could take Blackburn up as high as eighth in the table. Make no mistake about it: Blackburn Rovers U23s have plenty to play for on Friday night.
Last time out…
Rovers had the better of the respective fixtures between these two teams last season, holding West Ham U23s to an admittedly drab goalless draw at Rush Green back in October 2020, before making the Hammers pay for first-half profligacy by blowing them away 4-1 with a physically imposing display in the second half back in February.
Indeed, West Ham U23s have won only two of 12 games against Rovers’ development squad since 2010/11, the last such win being in November 2018 when goals from Nathan Holland and Xande Silva (two) handed the Hammers a 3-1 victory in Lancashire.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s lead coach Mark Robson: “For the players, it’s really important that they can keep their momentum going because when you’re near the top of the league, it tends to make you work even harder.
“Also, if we’re fighting near the top because we’re playing well and performances are good, it looks good from the first team’s perspective. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for the players to get that chance, but they have to keep going – they can’t take their foot off pedal. They have to keep performing and get even better.
“I thought we were good against Manchester City, but there’s still lots more to come.”
How can I follow?
West Ham United U23s’ match against Blackburn Rovers U23s will be played behind-closed-doors at Rush Green Stadium on Friday 26 November, kicking off at 7pm. Only key personnel and invited guests will be admitted.
You can still follow proceedings, however, with our live blog on whufc.com from 6.30pm and Twitter updates, and there will be post-match reaction and highlights pieces available over Friday evening and Saturday morning.