West Ham United U18s fell to a first loss of the season on as Nottingham Forest emerged as 3-0 victors in Saturday's Premier League Cup fixture.
Forest took an early lead through Joseph Gardner's finish and, despite the Irons growing back into the game, further goals from the hosts either side of the interval - courtesy of Gardner's second and Jack Nadin's strike - inflicted defeat on the Hammers.
The loss leaves the U18s sitting third in Group A, and Kevin Keen's team will need a victory in their final group match against Sunderland to guarantee qualification to the knockout rounds of the competition.
Lead coach Kevin was disappointed with his team's showing in defeat against Forest.
“We weren’t good enough today,” Keen told whufc.com. “We were nowhere near the levels that we’ve previously set. I have to give credit to Forest, they were really good and are arguably one of the best teams we’ve faced this year.
“Perhaps if we hadn’t conceded just before half time then things would have been different, but it was a tough day at the office for us today.
“It’s something we need to learn from. We weren’t good enough as a group. In contrast, I thought Forest were really good, so in the end the scoreline is probably a fair result.”
Gardner gave Forest the lead after just six minutes after some positive play by Detlef Osong down the left flank. The No9 powered down the left flank before squaring the ball to Gardner, who slotted the ball into the net from close range.
Nottingham Forest almost doubled their advantage on 22 minutes and, if not for a spectacular stop by Mason Terry, they would have. The Hammers were wasteful in possession and Nadin unleashed a thunderous effort on goal from the edge of the box. Terry was at full stretch to magnificently tip the ball onto the crossbar and behind for.
West Ham began to grow into the match and the first clear-cut opportunity fell the way of Patrick Kelly. The midfielder shifted the ball onto his right foot on the edge of the penalty area before curling an effort just wide of the post.
Nottingham Forest doubled their lead just before the break and it was the same combination once again. Osong showed power and pace down the left flank before chipping the ball back to Gardener, whose finish found the net.
The result was all but secured three minutes into the second half as Forest grabbed their third. Osong was once again the provider for the home side and his cut-back was smartly finished by Nadin, who tucked the ball into the corner.
Despite falling three goals behind, West Ham continued to push for a way back into the game. Kelly found space on the edge of the box after some positive play down the left hand side. The midfielder’s long range strike lacked direction, however, and the ball curled wide of the post.
The Hammers came close to finding a late consolation goal through Billy Bates but Favour Fawumni’s cross was marginally too high for the defender, who was unable provide a meaningful connection from close range.
Further reflecting on the game, Keen believed the timing of the goals conceded were a particularly big blow for his young Hammers.
He evaluated: “It’s really difficult in football when you go into a game and you find yourselves a goal down so early. Nottingham Forest were really up for the game and we weren’t quite at it, particularly in the early periods of the match.
“When you have started the season so well, as we have, opposition teams are going to be right up for it and we need to be prepared for that. They really came for us and they deserved to win today.
“Conceding just before half time is always a huge blow and then the goal straight after killed the game off. It was a really disappointing day for us.”
Despite a disappointing result, Keen highlighted that there were still a few positives to take from the game.
The Hammers showed character to continue to push for a late goal, and the best period of the match for the Hammers was arguably the closing exchanges.
He continued: “The change of shape definitely helped us, we were a lot better at the end of the match.
“Another real positive for me today was the performance of Mason Terry. We might have lost 3-0 but he was fantastic today and without some of his saves the result could have been a lot worse for us.
“Maybe we were unlucky not to score, but without Mason we could have conceded a lot more. I was pleased with a few other individual performances as well, they showed a real determination to put things right out there today.”
The Irons have still enjoyed a fantastic start to the season, with the side currently at the summit of the Premier League U18s South table, with a 100 per cent record maintained in league football in 2022/23.
While Keen admitted his side were below the usual standards, the U18s lead coach is optimistic the outing was a one-off.
“It was a bad day today but we need to remember that we have had a really good start to the season. We’ve got some really tough matches coming up, our next game is Chelsea away, which is as tough as they come.
“We need to make sure that we get back on the training field and start doing the things that we have done in the opening seven matches. The teamwork and intensity wasn’t quite there against Forest so that is something we will work on in the next couple of weeks.
“There’s a lot of work still to do, but it has been a good start to the season. Forest just wasn’t good enough from our perspective. We’ve had a hiccup so it’s important now that we are back to our best in the next match against Chelsea.”