West Ham United U18s’ 17-match unbeaten run in the U18 Premier League South came to an end in a pulsating 5-3 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.
The Hammers took an early two-goal advantage in the first half through George Earthy and Callum Marshall, but Spurs pulled one back just prior to the interval as Jamie Donley netted from the penalty spot.
The away side carried the momentum from their first finish into the second half, as Billy Heaps headed past Jacob Knightbridge, who then denied Donley his second from another penalty.
The Tottenham captain would complete the turnaround for the visitors minutes later, tapping in a scrappy third, before Jaden Williams pounced on an uncharacteristic West Ham error to add a fourth.
Divin Mubama gave the Hammers hope from 12 yards on 86 minutes, converting from the penalty spot, but Max McKnight secured all three points for Spurs with their fifth in added time.
While frustrated with the result and the performance, U18s assistant coach Gerard Prenderville said it was important on the side’s incredible unbeaten run which, up until Saturday’s fixture, had seen the young Irons go without a loss in 18 league outings.
“It’s a tough one to take,” Prenderville said: “We had picked Tottenham out as a tough game for us earlier in the week and they were the last team, before today, to beat us in the league back in September.
“We always knew it was going to be a tricky one. They were coming off a heavy defeat on Wednesday night and I knew they would be looking for a reaction, but we’re really disappointed with the result today.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the performance as well but the lads have done absolutely fantastic in the past few weeks and months. Kev [Keen, U18s lead coach] told them after the game that they’ve done really, really well this season and this game was a bump in the road.
“We’d been on an unbeaten run since mid-September with a lot of wins, a lot of clean-sheets and a few draws and that doesn’t happen very often in youth development football. Maybe we were due a little wobble, but we’re proud of the lads for what they’ve achieved this season so far.”
It looked like the U18s were set to maintain their outstanding streak in league football amid bright and sunny conditions at Little Heath when Earthy gave the side the lead on five minutes. Superb pressing by Archie Wood saw the midfielder played in and, while his first shot was pushed onto the post, he made no mistake from the rebound.
Just a few minutes later, the Hammers had doubled the advantage as Marshall latched onto a clever, looping ball from midfield to go one-on-one. The striker coolly converted, establishing a 2-0 lead inside eleven minutes.
Earthy had another opportunity just after the U18s’ second, while Knightbridge was called into action to deny Spurs’ Jez Davies, but the away side got back into the game three minutes before half-time.
A foul was ruled in the penalty area and Tottenham captain Donley stepped up. Knightbridge would get a strong hand to the penalty but, cruelly, the ball would still loop into the back of the net.
Buoyed by their finish, Spurs started the second half the brighter of the two sides and would find an equaliser on 64 minutes. A well-placed cross found Billy Heaps, who only had to head in at the near post to level the game.
Ten minutes later, Tottenham received another penalty after Junior Robinson was ruled to have committed a foul. Again, Donley stepped up, but this time Knightbridge was able to turn his spot-kick away.
Frustratingly, Tottenham continued to press and would complete their comeback with a scrappy finish via Donley, after the Irons failed to clear, on 76 minutes, before a poor defensive clearance allowed Williams in to add the fourth for the away team.
Mubama, on as a substitute in the second period, would give the Hammers a lifeline on 86 minutes when the home side were awarded a penalty of their own, confidently placing the ball into the top, right corner and sparking hope of a comeback in an already end-to-end contest.
But it was not to be as Tottenham found another way through; Donley picking out substitute McKnight at the far post to net their fifth, and the eighth of the match.
Prenderville noted that the lessons that come with defeats can prove to be a huge opportunity for development in young players, and is hopeful the Hammers can come back stronger from the loss.
He continued: “This is a big learning chance for the lads. We were saying after the game that when you’re winning then everything rosy and it’s brilliant but the best learning takes place in the face of defeat.
“Each individual in that team can look back on this game, watch back the videos, and give each other some honest feedback. We’ll do that for the players as well and I think that’s exactly where the best learning happens.
“It hurts in the moment. The boys are absolutely gutted, but we’ll pick the bones out of it in the coming days and I think some really good learning opportunities will present themselves.
“It’s two weeks now until we play Chelsea and we’ve got time to get it right, in the classroom, in the analysis room and on the pitch. We’ll get them in training, get them in the gym and making sure we’re ready for Chelsea.”