West Ham United U19s were left frustrated after drawing 3-3 with Stellenbosch in their final group stage match of the Premier League Next Generation Cup in India.
The Irons knew that only a win would be good enough to reach the final of the tournament, while the South African side only needed a draw to book their place at the top of the group after winning their opening two ties.
Goals were aplenty in the blazing conditions at Reliance Corporate Park in Mumbai, with Kyle Bailey notching the opener for Stellenbosch after 22 minutes.Kaelan Casey responded with a header from a Lewis Orford corner, but Stellies hit back through Roy-Keane Avontuur to lead 2-1.
Lauris Coggin’s Hammers rallied again, this time with Liam Jones chipping the ball over the head of goalkeeper De Jean Ah-Shene to level before the end of the 35-minute first half.
George Earthy slotted home a third on 55 minutes to put West Ham ahead for the first time in the game, but they could not hold on as Avontuur ran through and slotted home left-footed to tie the game and see the Hammers finish second in Group A.
Coggin named another strong side for the final group stage game, with Jamal Baptiste, Lewis Orford, Jones and Gideon Kodua all returning to the starting XI.
The game was only three minutes old when the South African side were gifted a golden chance. After a loose header from Regan Clayton, Stellies attacked with numbers, with Kyle Bailey skipping the ball around Mason Terry, only for Casey to clear his shot off the line and away from danger.
After that chance, Coggin’s Hammers upped their ante, with Favour Fawunmi almost carving out an opportunity for Ryan Battrum at the back post, but he was crowded out when the shooting opportunity presented itself.
Further chances followed, with good play resulting in Clayton having the chance to deliver a dangerous cross that Stellenbosch did well to clear away. The resulting corner was met by Baptiste, who headed over.
The South Africans continued to cause problems. This time Antonio Van Wyk was set free inside the area, but Casey and Terry were able to crowd him out before he got his shot away.
On 14 minutes, they were again afforded time, this time on the edge of the area, but fortunately the shot from Bailey landed wide of the target.
Nine minutes later, and Stellenbosch took the lead. An initial free kick was charged down well, but Jayden Trent then slipped a ball through across the face of goal for Bailey to tap home from close range.
The Irons responded immediately with a set piece of their own. Orford delivered a wonderful corner kick into the box for Casey to attack and head beyond Ah-Shene to bring the game level less than a minute later.
The game was end-to-end, with Stellenbosch a constant threat on the counter attack. Battrum found Clayton at one end, with the wing-back firing into the hands of Ah-Shene. The goalkeeper got things moving quickly and set his side away. A great pass was not capitalised on by forward Avontuur.
In the second half, Earthy replaced Billy Bates at the break and immediately offered something different with his direct running, which ended with a shot that was eventually charged down.
But it would be Stellenbosch who went ahead again. A hall was slipped in between Battrum and Baptiste to find Avontuur, who calmly advanced before slotting the ball beyond Terry to put them back in front.
The Hammers didn’t let their heads drop, though and hit back for the second time. A long, straight looking ball from Orford looked to be going straight through the goalkeeper, but Jones was alive and managed to chip the loose ball over the onrushing Al-Shene and pull the team level on 42 minutes.
Avontuur should have scored a third for Stellies moments later. Some neat, quick play eventually saw the ball fall to the forward who was free in the area, but he placed his effort wide of the post.
Coggin’s side kept plugging away, and eventually turned the game on it’s head through Earthy on 55 minutes. Patient play from Kodua saw Earthy player in behind, with the forward cooly clotting home to give the Irons the lead for the first time in the game.
But, continuing with the nature of the game, Stellenbosch hit back only a minute later. A run from the ever-dangerous Avontuur looked to have been started behind the Hammers defence, the the linesman’s flag stayed down as the forward added his second of the game.
Both sides had big chances to score as the game neared its conclusion. A dangerous, flat free-kick nearly fell to the feet of Baptiste to poke home, whilst at the other end, Clayton kept the ball out of the net with a vital block.
Kodua continued to carry the ball and create opportunities for the Hammers. This time the U18s captain slipped in the ever industrious Battrum, but he couldn’t direct his effort on target from an acute angle.
In the closing stages, Clayton was hacked down by a poor challenge, with the resulting scuffle seeing Casey and Trent sent off.
The Irons could not find another goal in the closing stages, meaning they settle for second in group A and await who they will face in their final match.
West Ham United: Terry, Bates (Earthy 36), Baptiste, Casey, Clayton, Orford, Akpata (Scarles 66), Battrum, Jones (Rigge 47), Kodua, Fawunmi
Subs not used: Tarima, Uwandji, Briggs
Goals: Casey 25, Jones 42, Earthy 55
Booked: Clayton 72
Sent-off: Casey 72