Steve Potts knows that West Ham United U21s’ next test will be their toughest of 2023/24.
The Hammers head to Bristol Rovers for their first fixture of the EFL Trophy - a competition that will pit the Club’s development side against teams from across the English football leagues.
Before fixtures against Newport County and Cheltenham Town, Bristol Rovers await. The lead coach, though, is confident in his side, with five wins on the bounce in all competitions.
“We’re coming up against EFL League One opposition who are hardened professionals,” Potts stated. “Men who have been playing the game for a long time.
“They’re going to be strong lads and, first and foremost, we’re going to need to stand up to that and then, if we can get a handle on that, show a bit of what we can do on the ball.”
The physicality will of course be a huge lesson for the U21s, many of whom are stepping up from U18s football to compete with the development squad this term.
Last season, West Ham United U21s finished on six points alongside the top two in Group C but, even after memorable wins over Cheltenham Town and Walsall, were eliminated from the 2022/23 edition on goal difference.
And after recent victories over Celtic and Valencia in the Premier League International Cup, there is reason to be optimistic about the Irons competing against a host of football league sides again this season.
Alongside the opposition, the experience of traveling to league grounds and playing in front of home support will also hold the young Hammers in good stead as their careers progress.
“We’re going into their ground, where their fans will be cheering them on, and it’s men’s football so it will be tough,” the lead coach added.
“But this is why the boys are here. It’s another great tournament for us. When you can pitch yourself against league opposition, it’s a real plus for everyone and a great learning opportunity.
"It’s a chance to show they can handle league football.”
Since entering for the first time in 2016/17, when a 17-year-old Declan Rice started our inaugural tie at Coventry City, the furthest the U21s have gone in the competition was the Southern section round of 16, which the young Irons reached in 2017/18 and 2020/21.
The Irons head into this year’s competition aiming to repeat the feat in 2023/24.