Premier League 2 Division 1 football returns to the top of the agenda for West Ham United’s development squad on Saturday afternoon, as they welcome Everton U23s to Rush Green Stadium.
Here’s everything you need to know about the game, which kicks off at 3pm and will be played behind-closed-doors.
The story so far
An inconsistent September yielded two wins, a draw and three defeats for West Ham United U23s, but the Hammers remain in a strong position in both the league and the Papa John’s Trophy.
Last time out, the young Hammers travelled to League Two outfit Colchester United and were defeated by an early goal at the JobServe Community Stadium in the Papa John’s Trophy, a result which means they will require a strong result in their final group-stage game at Gillingham, in late October, to advance.
Prior to that, the Hammers themselves were the beneficiaries of a 1-0 score-line, defeating Crystal Palace in Premier League 2 to climb up to a total of ten points from their first six league games.
Dmitri Halajko’s development squad have produced some outstanding performances so far this season – notably defeating third-placed team Arsenal 6-1 in their opening game, and Ipswich Town 2-1 at Portman Road – but will be seeking to build some consistency amidst another busy month of fixtures.
October kicks off with Saturday’s match at home to Everton, before Exeter City are the next visitors in mid-October for our second Premier League Cup group-stage game.
The games once again come thick and fast at the culmination of the month with Premier League 2 games away at Tottenham and at home to Manchester United, before that crucial Gillingham decider in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Whereas West Ham have experienced an inconsistent start to their league season, Everton U23s have endured a difficult one, with just one win from their opening six games – that coming against bottom team Derby County U23s.
Managed by fans’ favourite David Unsworth, the young Toffees acquitted themselves well in their last game against Manchester United U23s at Southport FC, but fell to a third-minute Anthony Elanga strike in an ill-tempered game which finished with three red cards in injury time.
Top-scoring striker Charlie Whitaker is therefore suspended for Saturday’s game against West Ham, but 19-year-old centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite returned to the U23s set-up after being a part of the senior squad and on the bench for most Premier League games so far this season.
And 18-year-old forward Lewis Dobbin was recently awarded his first-team debut for Everton, having impressed with his ruthlessness in front of goal in pre-season.
Out of form they may be, but the Toffees could still prove a sticky opposition to come across, with plenty of motivation travelling to Rush Green Stadium.
Last time out…
The Hammers were, in all honesty, the dominant team in both Premier League 2 Division 1 fixtures against the Toffees last season, but both matches saw the home team triumph 2-1.
Back in December 2020, a cold night saw West Ham enjoy no fewer than 19 shots, ten on target, 60 per cent possession, multiple penalty appeals, and complete dominance of the chances in the second half – only to suffer defeat after two early defensive mistakes and bouts of profligacy in front of goal.
The return fixture at Rush Green in April threatened to go the same way after Josh Bowler slammed home an eleventh-minute penalty, with West Ham going to on to hit the post and dominate the chance count – only to be denied by Everton ‘keeper Harry Tyrer.
Ultimately, however, a late Mipo Odubeko double turned things around and sustained the young Hammers’ form, which eventually saw them escape the relegation places and remain in development football’s top division.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s midfielder Bernardo Rosa: “We need to be better with the ball and keep our positive mentality, and that will help us improve against Everton.”
How can I follow?
West Ham United U23s’ match against Everton U23s will be played behind-closed-doors at Rush Green Stadium on Saturday 2 October, kicking off at 3pm. Only key personnel and invited guests will be admitted.
You can still follow proceedings, however, with our live blog on whufc.com from 2.30pm and Twitter updates, and there will be the usual array of post-match reaction and highlights pieces available over Saturday evening and Sunday morning.