Colchester United v West Ham United U21s - All You Need To Know

Armstrong Okoflex

The big games keep on coming for West Ham United and their development squad this month as the U21s make the short journey to Kent to take on League Two side Colchester United in the Papa John's Trophy group stages.

Having already seen off Ipswich Town, from the same division, at Portman Road, Dmitri Halajko's team will be looking to seal qualification for the knockout stages of the competition at the first time of asking with three points at JobServe Community Stadium.

Here’s everything you need to know about Tuesday night's game…

The competition

2021/22 marks the 38th season of the Papa John’s Trophy (formerly known as the Trophy and Checkatrade Trophy for sponsorship purposes), the third most prestigious knockout tournament in English football after the FA Cup and League Cup.

The young Hammers have been drawn in Group A of the Southern Section against Ipswich, Gillingham and Colchester in this season’s competition, which in recent seasons has invited Category One academies to tackle League One and League Two opposition.

These groups are regionalised - eight northern-based teams, eight southern-based – with each side playing one another once; as an Academy team, West Ham’s fixtures are all away at first-team stadia, a fitting reflection of the professional status the young Hammers aspire to. 

The top two from each group qualify for the knockout stages, which - for the first two rounds at least - are also regionalised. The draw is then open from the quarter-finals onwards, although West Ham's U21s cannot meet another Academy team until at least the semi-finals.

With a prospective final to be played at Wembley Stadium, the Papa John’s Trophy is arguably the most valuable competition for any Academy side; no development squad has ever reached the Final, with only Chelsea, back in 2017/18, ever reaching the semi-finals. 

Sunderland are this season’s defending champions after defeating Tranmere Rovers 1-0 back in March.

The West Ham development squad will play as the 'Under-21s' on Tuesday evening, with competition rules stating that invited Academies must start at least six players aged 21 or below on 30 June 2021, and a maximum of two overage (or players with 40-plus first-team appearances) may be named on the team sheet.

And, in the event of a draw after 90 minutes, the two teams will go to penalties - with the winner gaining an extra point for their troubles!

Academy players celebrate


The story so far

Two weeks ago, two teams met at Portman Road - one with vastly more experience, including players with senior international caps, than the other.

And once again in the Papa John's Trophy group stages, West Ham's brightest young talents rose to the challenge. 

Despite going toe-to-toe with established senior footballers - some of whom had top-flight experience - in the form of League One team Ipswich Town, the young Hammers showed they have the quality to compete in professional, high-level football.

Having last season won all three of their group-stage games, the Academy of Football continues to shine in this competition, with the defeat of the Tractor Boys added to by wins away in 2020/21 at Portsmouth (1-0), Southend United (3-1) and, of course, Colchester (1-0).

So despite returning to The U's with another comparatively inexperienced team, Dmitri Halajko's team will play with purpose and without fear, as they did so admirably in Suffolk a fortnight ago. 

The young Hammers also go into the game fresh off the back of their first clean sheet of the 2021/22 season, a solid showing in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace U23s at Rush Green on Friday evening.

Although not always finding the final ball they sought out, lead coach Halajko was full of praise at full-time for the manner in which his side set about their task, defended stoutly and made their opportunity count.

Should they manage the same at Colchester, three points would seal qualification from Group A at the first time of asking.

The U's, however, will be looking to bounce back immediately, having suffered a 1-0 home defeat to League One Gillingham thanks to Robbie McKenzie’s winning goal in the third minute of stoppage time three weeks ago.

Hayden Mullins

The opposition

2021/22 has so far presented something of a mixed bag for Colchester United and their new permanent coach, former West Ham midfielder Hayden Mullins.

The U's have just two wins from their ten competitive games played so far this season, but have also drawn four of their eight league games, sitting 16th in the League Two table as it stands.

But those results represent a spell in which Mullins has been forced to self-isolate due to COVID complications, whilst no fewer than ten new signings - including former Academy of Football forwards Freddie Sears (this season's top scorer with three goals) and Frank Nouble - have been settling into life in Essex.

Former Ipswich centre-back Tommy Smith is a commanding captain at centre-back, with 38 caps for his native New Zealand to his name - a total which he will hope to add to in the upcoming international break - while summer signing Cole Skuse has impressed in midfield, and young goalkeeper Shamal George - until last year of Liverpool - is winning swathes of plaudits for his displays every week.

The U's will therefore be looking for an injection of confidence from Tuesday's game, having battled to a point on the road at Swindon Town in a 0-0 draw on Saturday.

Last time out...

The two teams last met in this competition at the same stage last year, when West Ham United U21s put on a professional display to beat Colchester United 1-0 at the JobServe Community Stadium.

A second-half thunderbolt from Conor Coventry was enough to see the young Hammers all but confirm their place in the knockout stages of the competition on that occasion.

Watch the highlights here.

Conor Coventry

What they’re saying

Development squad lead coach Dmitri Halajko: “We went there last year in the same competition. It was a really close game and we won it 1-0, a great goal from Conor from about 30 yards, so we know it’s going to be tough because it was tough on that night.

"I went to watch them against Gillingham and I think they’ve got better since last year; they’ve got quite a few new signings too.

"I expect it to be tougher than last year, and we played well on that night and just scraped a 1-0, so it’s going to take the same kind of performance we saw as against Crystal Palace to get anything out of it.”

How can I follow?

West Ham United U21s’ match against Colchester United kicks off at JobServe Community Stadium at 7.30pm on Tuesday 28 September.  Away tickets are available to purchase via the Colchester United website and are priced at £12 for adults, £10 for 65+/Forces/NHS, £6 for U18s and £2 for U11s.

Tickets and parking must be purchased online for Tuesday evening, parking in advance especially. 

The game is also available to stream live on Colchester's iFollow platform for £10.

You can also follow proceedings with our live blog on from 7pm. There will also be post-match reaction and highlights pieces available from the JobServe Community Stadium over the course of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

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