Dmitri Halajko: West Ham United U21s did brilliantly in Ipswich Town win
West Ham United U21s lead coach Dmitri Halajko was pleased with his team’s performance as the young Hammers defeated Ipswich Town 2-1 at Portman Road in the Papa John’s Trophy group stages.
James Norwood opened the scoring with only two minutes on the clock for the Tractor Boys, but Keenan Forson equalised ten minutes later after a well-worked move.
In an end-to-end game, the Hammers went in front with only a minute of normal time remaining. Jamal Baptiste was taken out by Tomas Holy after the young defender challenged the goalkeeper in the air. Armstrong Okoflex stepped up and slotted the ball home to give the east Londoners the win.
And Halajko was delighted with his team’s effort and determination at the full-time whistle.
“It was a really good performance,” he told whufc.com. “I didn’t think we were at our best on the ball today, we felt we turned it over a bit.
"But when you’re not having the best day on the ball, what you’ve got to show is really good defensive determination and lots of grit to stay in the game and then chances will come your way.
“I think we did that brilliantly, with the character we showed to stay in the game and to defend well and not give away any easy goals after the first two minutes. At the end, they get that little bit of luck and their reward for all the hard work they showed. It was a really mature performance in that sense.”
How well they did against these pro’s was one of the most pleasing things, it’s the most experienced team you could probably come up against at this level
The young Irons faced off against a vastly experienced outfit in Suffolk, but weren’t fazed by the task at hand. They were organised and chose their moments to break forward and attack – whilst also limiting their opponents to very little output themselves.
And West Ham's development squad lead coach was pleased at how well his charges saw off their experienced counterparts.
“How well they did against these pros was one of the most pleasing things. It’s the most experienced team you could probably come up against at this level.
“I didn’t think we looked out of our depth in terms of game understanding, and I thought we held our own and we managed the momentum of the game. We looked composed without the ball, and we looked organised. As I said, it’s a mature performance against a side that were far more experienced than us, so that was impressive.
“Our defensive backline are well organised, and it didn’t faze them going up against some powerful and experienced forwards tonight. They work hard on being organised out on the training pitch - it’s not a fluke, that’s a lot of hard work and hours out there.
“We have Steve Potts here, whose technical and tactical detail around defending is top draw, so there’s nobody better to learn from than him – they’ve got a defensive master who they get to work with every single day out on the grass."
There were 4231 supporters making their presence known at Portman Road, the majority of them in Ipswich blue.
Halajko was pleased with not only how his team reacted after going behind, but also how the team handled the occasion of playing in front of a very different atmosphere to what they’re used to week in, week out.
“It was an unbelievable response to going behind," he confirmed.
"This is probably the most fans that some of them have played in front of, and in one of the best stadiums they’ve played in, so it’s a tough environment to go 1-0 down at any level, let alone being a young player and still trying to find your way in the game.
"They weren’t fazed by it at all, they got over the start and regrouped, found their composure and got themselves back level, which I thought was a superb response.
“That’s the thing in development football that you can't really recreate. Hopefully we can create some of the intensity and quality, but you don’t know how certain players will react to playing in front of a crowd.
“You want them to have taste of it before they step up into a first-team environment, so it’s the perfect environment for them to play In front of this crowd tonight for them to get used to it – so when the even bigger stage comes they aren’t fazed by it.”
The U23s will now prepare to take on Derby County on Monday 20 September, looking to take this positive victory into their Premier League 2 campaign.