West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko was disappointed that a slow start cost his side in their 3-2 loss to Derby County U23s on Monday evening.
Going into the game seeking their first Premier League 2 win of the campaign, the Hammers’ development squad did their cause no favours after barely two minutes had been played at Loughborough University Stadium, Jack Stretton profiting from loose passing at the back to fire home the opening goal.
An end-to-end first half saw both teams exchange chances before Stretton burst in behind the West Ham backline to double Derby’s advantage with a low finish prior to half-time.
West Ham came out after the break with a renewed intensity and vigour to their play, creating several presentable opportunities, but were unable to prevent Stretton from completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot with just under quarter-of-an-hour to play.
They did, however, ultimately get the goals their chances deserved, the first arriving moments later when captain Conor Coventry’s curling cross nestled into the far corner.
Despite the renewed hope that Oladapo Afolayan’s 85th-minute poacher’s goal then gave the Hammers, they could not muster up the equaliser required to prevent a fourth defeat from six league games thus far.
“It was similar to a few games this season really, where we’ve taken too long to get started and given teams a head start,” Halajko reflected.
“When we have got started, we’ve been the better team, but if we keep giving teams one or two goals head start before trying to fight our way back into it, we’re going to find ourselves on the wrong sides of results like we have tonight.
“There are spells of the game that we dominated – all of the second half, for sure – but unfortunately it was too little, too late.
“There are signs there that we’re good enough to compete at this level, but at the moment we can’t really put together a whole performance that gives us a result – a performance from minute one to minute 90. There are big lapses in there which give opposition teams too many opportunities.”
The young Hammers looked understandably crestfallen at full-time, given the disappointing nature of the loss, but Halajko believes they have the character to search within themselves for the answers to their recent results.
Giving goals away like that won’t win us games of football, it won’t get us into the first team, it won’t get us out on loan, it won’t progress our careers at all, so that has to stop
Doing so will require greater concentration, greater resilience – and greater recognition of the end goals of development football.
“We’ve got to look at ourselves,” the lead coach explained. “We’ve got to look at our concentration levels.
“We can’t give goals away like we’ve done tonight. You won’t see three worse goals to give away at this standard of football, and you’ve got to take responsibility for that.
“That isn’t going to get us anywhere; giving goals away like that won’t win us games of football, it won’t get us into the first team, it won’t get us out on loan, it won’t progress our careers at all, so that has to stop.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to improve."
West Ham U23s will have another chance to gain a Premier League 2 victory later this week when they host Liverpool U23s at Rush Green Stadium on Friday 6 November.