Liam Jones could sum up West Ham United U19s opening match of the Premier League Next Generation Cup in one word. Frustrating.
The Young Hammers took on Indian side ATK Mohun Bagan in first fixture at Reliance Corporate Park on Wednesday afternoon, drawing 1-1 in Navi Mumbai as they came from behind to get their first point on the board in Group A.
The IPL outfit took the lead against the run of play inside ten minutes. A long ball over the top allowed Suhail Ahmad Bhat to run in behind and slot the ball beyond Mason Terry.
It took a while for Jones and his teammates to get into their rhythm, but once they did, they dominated the play. In the second half, the Irons had numerous chances to get back level, included from the penalty spot, where Lewis Orford saw his effort saved by ATK goalkeeper Arsh.
Jones, who occupied the right flank until he was substituted with ten minutes remaining, and caused issues for the ATK defence with his driving runs as he was consistently allowed to cut inside onto his favoured left foot.
The goal did eventually arrive, with brilliant work from Regan Clayton on the left allowing the full-back to deliver a cross that was right on the money – finding the late arriving substitute, Favour Fawumni at the back post who slotted home on 62 minutes.
Those in Claret & Blue went in search of the winner, and almost found it when Dan Rigge’s shot almost squirmed under Arsh and into the net, but the goalkeeper managed to claw the ball back at the last opportunity.
Jones believes that the opening game has taught the team many things about how the rest of the tournament will play out.
“Yeah, it was definitely a frustrating game,” the 17-year-old admitted at full-time. In the second half in particular we created a lot of chances, and we really should have taken more of them.
"We had a lot of possession as well, so really it was just one of those games where you can’t quite get the win over the line. They slowed the game down, put in a lot of fouls and perhaps we didn’t get all of the decisions go our way today."
The game took place at 4pm local time, in a sweltering 35 degrees Celsius, and Jones admitted that it took the Hammers some time to get used to the conditions during the contest.
“The heat is a lot worse than you think it’s going to be. We’re just not used to playing in these kinds of conditions, and in the first half I think we saw that. It’s something that we have to deal with and get better at.
“We’ve experienced it now and we’re slowly acclimatising, so we should be a lot stronger as the tournament progresses. There’s a lot to work on, particularly around controlling the game and making the most of when we’re on top."
Jones won the penalty in the second half which saw Orford denied and was a constant threat on the left-hand side all afternoon.
He says that the Irons have been reminded of what tournament football is like and that they now know what to expect in their remaining fixtures.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve learnt is what teams are going to be like out here. We need to remember that it is tournament football and teams want to win at all costs.
“Lauris (Coggin) has spoken to us about being patient when we’re creating opportunities, and I think we got better at that as the game went on. We just need to be like that from minute one in our upcoming games and try and make sure we top the group and reach the final,” he concluded.
You can watch highlights from the 1-1 draw against ATK Mohun Bagan by clicking here!