Kevin Keen of West Ham United U18s

Keen: It’s been a fantastic year for the U18s

There is a lot to be proud of for West Ham United U18s this season, according to lead coach Kevin Keen

The young Hammers claimed second in the U18 Premier League South table in a campaign which saw the Irons go on an incredible 17-game unbeaten streak, running from late September until mid-March.

The Irons would lose just four league matches all season, with three of those coming in the first five games.

Reflecting on those initial matches, Keen said: “The start of the season was interesting because I remember us coaches saying after four or five games that we had played really well but we weren’t winning games.

"We lost to Southampton and Crystal Palace, and I remember that we played well in those games. All the statistics and analysis suggested that we should’ve won those matches. 

“I think there was a bit of a mental push, and we went to Chelsea away and won 2-1. I think that was the moment when the lads understood that they were a good team and that previous results should’ve been better. 

“I think that Chelsea game changed the season; it gave the players the confidence and the understanding of our quality and it was from there that we pushed on and did really well.”

West ham United U18s prepare for kick-off


The win over the Blues set the Hammers on a course to challenge at the top of the division, briefly overtaking Southampton at the summit of the U18 Premier League South table, as the side became comfortable setting up with three centre-backs. 

For Keen, the togetherness shown by the group was the biggest factor in their success.

“I think we just played as a real team,” Keen continued. “There’s a real togetherness in this group.

"We haven’t really got any weaknesses, we’ve been great defensively, the midfield players work hard and play for the team and our attackers are always a threat and have scored plenty of goals.

“We’ve played a 3-5-2 formation. We wanted to play with two strikers as we knew we had good attacking players, and it really worked out as a formation that they enjoyed playing in. Regan Clayton and Junior Robinson were both very good in the wing-back positions, so it all came together quite nicely. 

“We just built on the Chelsea result. Whoever came into the team performed really well - we had to make changes at times with injuries and players playing with the U23s. The whole squad had a real understanding of the formation and the way we wanted to play.

“'Togetherness' is the word of the season for me, whether it’s in training or during a match. The lads enjoy being together and being part of this group.

"It’s a shame we couldn’t win the league because I feel that we could’ve really achieved something this year. Obviously, the London Cup with the U17s was great, but it’s a shame we couldn’t hang on at the top of the league. 

“That being said, Southampton won a fantastic number of games, so it was always going to be really tough.”

U18s cele


A source of immense satisfaction for the playing squad and coaching staff in the U18s is the number of clean sheets kept by the team this season. 

The young Irons did not concede in 13 of their 26 league outings, a phenomenal record at any level of football, let alone in Academy football.

Keen beamed: “We had the most clean sheets in the country and possibly the least goals conceded this season in the country too. 13 clean sheets is incredible in youth football, and it shows how well drilled we were defensively and how hard we work off the ball.

“It’s not just the defence and the goalkeeper, it’s the whole team, and I don’t see any youth teams beating our record this season in the near future. To keep a clean sheet in half of our league matches is an incredible stat.”

With the Academy of Football continuing to push players to improve, U16s Lewis Orford and Oliver Scarles are two youngsters who have made the most of their U18s opportunities this season, playing up the age groups and becoming key cogs in Keen’s squad.

Thirteen clean sheets is incredible in youth football, and it shows how well drilled we were defensively and how hard we work off the ball.
Kevin Keen

The lead coach has been impressed with how the duo have coped with the step up and has no doubt both will continue to develop and grow with West Ham.

Keen said: “It’s a massive achievement for them. They’re two very good players with very bright futures.

"They’ve been extremely important for us, and they will be even better next year as first year scholars. There aren’t many teams who will have U16s playing that amount of games for the U18 side so it’s been great for them. 

“It was also great to see the rest of the squad welcome them into the group like they did. Even though they don’t train with us every day, they’re very much a part of the group.

"In a match, the rest of the players trust them and depend on them. I think they’ll be very important players for us next season because of their experience that they had this year.

“Orford has been fantastic; I believe he got the most assists in our team which is massive for a midfielder. Scarles has played in loads of positions for us and has been a real utility player on the left-hand side. Hopefully they will both kick on next year and, in my opinion, it won’t be too long until they’re with the U23s.”

Summarising the campaign, Keen admitted to a twinge of disappointment that the side could not claim a piece of silverware for their efforts, but is nonetheless full of pride at how the side have performed and trained throughout the season.

He added: “I’m really pleased to finish second in the league but I’m slightly disappointed we couldn’t do more than we did in the Premier League Cup or in the Youth Cup.

"The achievements in the league were fantastic but there’s a little bit of me that’s gutted we couldn’t win anything with the group we have, and that’s praise for the players because I believe we were good enough to go a lot further in the cups.

“It’s been a fantastic year with a great group of young players. The staff also deserve a lot of credit and it’s been great to go in and work with them every day.”


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