West Ham United U18s came from a goal behind to claim an impressive 2-1 win away to Sunderland, in a performance that was unfortunately not enough to quality for the U18s Premier League Cup quarter-finals.
Late goals from Jemiah Umolu and Favour Fawunmi were enough to secure victory and three points for the young Hammers in Premier League Cup Group A, after Jake Waters had put the home side in front.
Victory for the U18s means they finish their group stage on six points, in second place behind Fulham on goal difference, with only the top side in each group progressing to the knock-out stages of the competition.
Nonetheless, the young Irons can be pleased with their performance in the competition against a Black Cats side who currently occupy the top spot in the Premier League north division.
The victory means that the Hammers have now won eight of their first nine matches this season, with their only loss coming against Nottingham Forest in the Premier League Cup. Keen’s side have also scored a remarkable 30 goals across their first nine matches of the season.
U18s coach Mark Phillips was delighted with the application of the U18s in the hard-fought victory.
“We knew it was going to be a tough encounter,” Phillips told whufc.com. “They’re top of their league and their record is very good. A number of players from our squad were missing. Some of them had a fantastic opportunity with the first team and other players were with the U21s.
“We had to use our squad and a few younger players came in as well and it worked to good effect. The boys that came in were fantastic. The spirit and the work ethic was absolutely superb.
“We had to work really hard for it but we got there in the end. Everyone in the squad played their part and we matched Sunderland all over the park. The boys worked their socks off.”
West Ham made a fast start to Saturday’s match, creating numerous chances, but it was the hosts that took the lead against the run of play on 25 minutes.
The Black Cats overturned possession, permitting Will Dowling to race down the left flank before whipping in a dangerous cross towards Waters. The Sunderland No9 found himself unmarked and he calmly tucked the ball into the net from close range to give his side the lead.
Despite the setback, the young Hammers side showed tremendous spirit and determination to fight back. With just over ten minutes remaining the visitors found a deserved equaliser through substitute Umolu.
The West Ham striker scored his first U18s goal of the season with the aid of a slight deflection, to give his side a chance of snatching all three points heading into the closing stages.
As the match ticked towards its conclusion, Fawunmi popped up with his third goal of the season to secure all three points.
Umolu was heavily involved once again, winning his duel with his Sunderland marker. Amidst strong appeals for a penalty, Fawunmi kept his composure to slot the ball past Sunderland goalkeeper Matt Young to score the winning goal, sparking jubilant celebrations for the visitors.
The U18s Premier League Cup format sees the seven group winners and the best second placed team progress to the quarter-finals. Despite the Hammers’ unfortunate exit on goal difference, coach Phillips suggested that the performance overshadowed everything else.
“It’s very, very slightly bittersweet,” he said. “However, it was such a good performance and the players showed so much character.
“It is a slight shame because I think that we deserved to go through to the next round. We had two very good performances in this competition but we didn’t show up at Nottingham Forest and that is what has let us down at the end of the day.
“We didn’t qualify, but after this performance I have nothing but praise for the boys. It’s been a long-distance trip but we have thoroughly enjoyed it. The victory, and most of all the manner of the victory has topped it all off.”
The U18s side were missing several regular members of the squad, with young players playing up through the age groups, and Phillips is thoroughly impressed with the strength in depth at the Academy of Football.
He added: “We had a number of players missing for various reasons but the younger boys have come in and put in a performance to beat the best team in the north division. It really bodes well for the future.
“Some of these boys have been waiting for their opportunity and none of them disappointed. It is really encouraging to see that we have a strong squad at U18 level. Umolu has been waiting a while for example, and he took his chance today. He scored one and assisted the winner, so it is extremely pleasing for us coaches. We are very happy with what we’ve seen.”