Dmitri Halajko: We’ll go to attack Colchester United in EFL Trophy

Development squad lead coach Dmitri Halajko

You could forgive Dmitri Halajko a moment of sentiment when he returns to Colchester United in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday evening.

The West Ham United development squad lead coach knows the Essex club quite like few others, having fulfilled a variety of roles at the Oysters during a decade’s service at the beginning of his coaching career.

Having led the development of young players at Colchester United’s Centre of Excellence with aplomb, Halajko is now doing the same at West Ham United’s Academy of Football, helping the Under-21s to kick off their 2020/21 EFL Trophy campaign with three points on the road at Southend United earlier in September.

The Irons will be looking to take the momentum from that 3-1 win – plus the encouraging second-half showing in the 2-2 league draw against Southampton on Saturday afternoon – into Tuesday's group stage contest, knowing that three points would mathematically put them on the verge of qualification, if not secure it.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Halajko smiled. “We go into the game with one win under our belts, which is a really strong position to be in. 

“We want to qualify from the group. We narrowly didn’t manage it last year, so this year we want to go one better and at least get out of the group, if not further. If we win that game, that should do that for us, so it’s a big game against Colchester. 

“They’re a good team with a good youth programme. A lot of players have come through their system and I know them quite well, as it’s where I started off, so I know how good a club they are at bringing young players through. 

“They’ve started the season well and were in the League Two Play-Offs last year, so it’s a club who are in a good run of form, with good players coming through the youth system. It will be a tough one and a really good test for our lads.”

One of 16 Category One Academy sides in the 2020/21 EFL Trophy, Halajko’s development squad currently lead Group A of the southern section of this season’s competition.

The tournament continues to provide elite Academies with a platform for some of the country’s finest young talent to acquire valuable experience against senior Football League opposition.

The young Hammers have had a tough run of fixtures to start their 2020/21 campaign, with their opening two EFL Trophy group stage fixtures – both away – sandwiching three consecutive away games in Premier League 2.

I think we’ve shown that we’re at our best when we’re aggressive and when we get after teams. We play forward, we play attacking football, and we really take the game to other people

Dmitri Halajko

The development squad were unfortunate to suffer 1-0 and 3-0 defeats at Chelsea and Tottenham respectively, with wastefulness in front of goal their biggest weakness, but fought back from a two-goal deficit to Southampton to claim their first point of the season at the weekend.

Putting in such an impressive second-half showing against a side with plentiful Premier League experience gives Halajko confidence that they can repeat the trick against Tuesday’s senior Football League opposition.

Halajko said: “We should have confidence from our first three performances of the season.  Taking the first half of the Southampton game aside, I think we’ve been good, if not better than, the teams we’ve been up against. 

“Converting chances is still our shortfall at the moment. We had our chances to make it 3-2 at Southampton, and maybe our quality let us down. 

“That’s our shortfall at the moment: it’s hard to win games if you don’t convert good chances, because at this level you get fewer of them, so if we continue to improve at that then the league draws and losses will quite easily turn into wins.

“I think we’ve shown that we’re at our best when we’re aggressive and when we get after teams. We play forward, we play attacking football, and we really take the game to other people. 

“We’ll try and do that at Colchester. We’ll try to assert ourselves and show what we can do.”

West Ham United Under-21s take on Colchester United on Tuesday 29 September in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 7pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on from 6pm.

Please note that all Academy fixtures will be played behind closed doors until further notice. Only key personnel will be admitted on site and matches will be played without supporters present, in line with safety guidelines and social distancing measures still in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.