The October international break may still be drawing to a close, but West Ham United U23s are set to spring back into action on Wednesday afternoon when they welcome Exeter City U23s to Rush Green Stadium in the Premier League Cup.
Having impressed with a comprehensive display against Everton U23s a week-and-a-half ago – a result which boosted West Ham up to third in the Premier League 2 Division 1 table – lead coach Dmitri Halajko will be hoping his side can recapture their early-season momentum after their brief break in fixtures.
Here’s everything you need to know about Wednesday’s Premier League Cup tie, which will be played behind-closed-doors…
The story so far...
Last month, the young Hammers admittedly got off to a poor start in their first Premier League Cup campaign in five years, a flat display in Kidderminster yielding a 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers U23s.
Thankfully, the format of the competition means West Ham have plenty of time and games in which to minimise the impact of that result on the Group F table – but they’ll want to set things right at the first time of asking on Wednesday.
Reinstated in the absence of the Premier League International Cup this season, on hold given COVID-related considerations, the Premier League Cup is the domestic equivalent of that competition, and returns after not taking place in 2020/21.
Open to Category One and Two Academies, with Categories Three and Four clubs competing in qualifiers to join them, the tournament is designed to enhance the competitiveness of the Professional Development Phase league calendar with knockout football.
Taking a similar format to the UEFA Champions’ League, where 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four, each team plays their three opponents both home and away over the course of six months.
Contested between Under-23 players, each side is allowed to field three over-age outfield players and a goalkeeper born before 1 January 1998 in the 2021/22 season.
West Ham have been drawn in Group F alongside Category One Academy Wolves, Category Two Swansea City and Category Three Exeter.
Having played two games, Wolves currently top the group with six points, having beaten Exeter 3-2 away last month. Exeter and Swansea also drew 1-1 the week prior in South Wales, meaning West Ham’s defeat in the Midlands – in their only game played so far – currently sees them sit bottom.
With five games still to play, however, there is plenty of time in which to secure a top-two finish, which would see the Hammers reach the single-leg knockout stages in spring 2022.
It was not all that long ago, of course, that West Ham last won the Premier League Cup! In 2015/16, after a two-legged final ended in 1-0 home wins for both sides, the U21s defeated Hull City U21s on penalty kicks at the KC Stadium.
As a Category Three Academy, Exeter City had to win through a qualifying round to reach the group stages, impressively defeating Devon rivals Plymouth Argyle 2-1 at Hope Park.
Forward Ben Seymour – who, at the age of 22, has already made some 68 appearances for the Grecians’ senior side in League Two – scored a brace for Exeter either side of half-time to see them overcome Ryan Law’s consolation strike.
Also playing that day were 21-year-old midfielder Harry Kite – another Exeter U23s player with significant first-team experience – and 16-year-old striker Sonny Cox, who reportedly spent time on trial at Manchester United last season and who put pen-to-paper on his first professional contract over the summer.
An impressive array of talents, therefore, are likely to travel to Rush Green on Wednesday, hoping to take another step forwards in joining the likes of Exeter academy alumni Matt Grimes, Ollie Watkins and Ethan Ampadu in forging promising futures in the game.
Other starlets of recent years, like Jay Stansfield, Sean Goss and Mark Ellis, have been recruited by other clubs before they have even made it to the U18s team, further evidence of the widely-renowned academy operation underway in the south-west.
Led by U23s coach Dan Green, who spent the majority of his playing career at non-league Truro City, the junior Grecians will now be hoping to demonstrate that pedigree by fighting back from a winless start to make their mark on the Premier League Cup this season.
Last time out…
West Ham United’s development squad last took on Exeter City’s senior side in the 2019/20 Papa John’s Trophy group stages, falling to a late 3-1 defeat at St James’ Park in a result which extinguished the Hammers' hopes of progression that season.
At Academy level, however, the two teams last met in this competition in the 2015/16 season. West Ham, who went on to win the tournament, strolled to a 4-0 victory in Devon thanks to a Jaanai Gordon brace and goals from Moses Makasi and Djair Parfitt-Williams.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko: “The Premier League Cup is a competition we want to go far in.
“Our first game, against Wolves, we didn’t make count, so we want to get back on track really. We want to qualify from the group and go as far as we can in the competition.
“We’ll be missing a couple of players away on international duty, so it might be an opportunity for a few younger players to come into the squad, but without a shadow of a doubt we want to progress and get as far as we can, so we’ll be eager for the three points.”
How can I follow?
West Ham United U23s’ match against Exeter City U23s will be played behind-closed-doors at Rush Green Stadium on Wednesday 13 October, kicking off at 2pm. Only key personnel and invited guests will be admitted.
You can still follow proceedings, however, with our live blog on whufc.com from 1.30pm and Twitter updates, and there will be post-match reaction and highlights pieces available over Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.