West Ham United U23s return to Premier League 2 action on Friday 8 April away to Blackburn Rovers.
The Irons will be eager to keep their recent fine form going and claim a third consecutive league victory, as the race at the top of Premier League 2 Division 1 closes in on a thrilling conclusion.
Read on for all you need to know about this upcoming Premier League 2 fixture…
The story so far
Just a few short weeks ago, the chance to claim the Premier League 2 Division 1 title was out of West Ham United’s hands.
Mark Robson’s side endured a disappointing run of form in late January and February as three consecutive defeats – against Leicester City, Manchester United and Manchester City – left the U23s significantly behind the latter in the race for top spot.
Recent games have, however, increased optimism that the development team can achieve something really special. A 3-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion prior to the international break was followed up by an excellent 3-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday, while City dropping points in three of their last four matches has closed the gap at the summit of the table.
West Ham United now sit six points behind City but hold two games in hand over their title rivals. Goal difference slightly favours the Manchester side at this time, but victory against Blackburn Rovers on Friday will have the league leaders anxiously looking over their shoulders at the chasing Irons.
For the Hammers, the situation has not really changed. Maximum points are required from the final four matches. A busy April is looking very intriguing.
Blackburn Rovers U23s come into Friday’s game sat eleventh in the table and, like the Hammers, have claimed victory in their last two league outings.
Wins over Derby County and Everton mean Rovers are on a good run of form heading into this week’s rearranged Premier League contest. The side are undefeated in their last six matches and have scored 17 goals across those matches, including a 4-0 win over Leeds United and a 6-0 defeat of Brighton.
While Blackburn have netted 41 goals this campaign, it is defensively where Friday’s hosts have previously struggled, conceding a league-high 48 times this season.
Those defensive fragilities have proven even more apparent in recent weeks, despite Blackburn maintaining their goalscoring form. Of those 48 goals scored, forward Sam Burns has netted seven of them in his ten outings at this level. The youngster has, however, since gone on loan to League Two side Scunthorpe United, meaning Blackburn will need to rely on other goalscoring sources on Friday afternoon.
Welsh striker Jack Vale has stepped up for this Friday’s hosts and is now the team’s top scorer in Premier League 2 this campaign with eight goals, while winger Luke Brennan and attacking midfielder Connor McBride have both been a consistent threat for the young Rovers throughout the campaign.
In Mike Sheron, Blackburn have an U23s coach who took charge of the side in September, having been part of the Academy set-up since 2015.
Last time out…
It was only Mark Robson’s second game in charge of the U23s when Blackburn Rovers visited Rush Green Stadium back in November.
A close-fought contest, the Irons took the lead on 17 minutes when Kamarai Swyer guided in a half-volley from a Dan Chesters cross.
Freddie Potts would go close for the home side while captain Aji Alese would need to display his commitment to defending, making a sensational clearance from under the cross-bar to deny Rovers.
The visitors would go close in the second half, twice striking the woodwork, while Chesters also tested, but West Ham saw out the tie with a mature performance to claim the 1-0 win.
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 winning 4-1 in February 2020 at home.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s lead coach Mark Robson: “It’s a really busy run to end the season and I’ve got no doubt that we’ll be calling on every player in the squad in the coming weeks to lift their game.
“We need to stay focused around everything, and the lads need to come in each morning brightly and not have any excuses. We want to try and win every game between now and the end of the season and, if we do, we give ourselves a good chance of being successful.”
How can I follow?
West Ham United U23s’ match away to Blackburn Rovers U23s will be played at the Championship club’s Training Centre on Friday 8 April, with kick-off set for 1pm BST.
Supporters can follow proceedings from the Premier League 2 match through our live blog on whufc.com, with coverage starting at 12pm BST. Score updates will also be available on Twitter.
Post-match reaction and highlights will be available on whufc.com on Friday afternoon and throughout Saturday.