When the full-time whistle sounded at Rush Green Stadium on Friday evening, jubilation; West Ham United Under-23s had claimed a fully-merited first win of the Premier League 2 season, 2-0 against Manchester United Under-23s.
The Hammers have played some good football at times this season but haven’t always quite found the end product – or indeed, that stroke of luck – which can settle a match in your favour.
Yet their sheer resilience in the face of a talented visiting team was exemplary in east London, and meant that two counter-attacking goals – the first a low Dan Chesters cross diverted in by Manchester United defender Will Fish, the second a penalty converted by Oladapo Afolayan after Chesters was felled – were enough to claim three priceless points.
The visitors would later be reduced to ten men for an off-the-ball incident which saw Hannibal Mejbri dismissed.
West Ham’s U23s, meanwhile, were forced to dig in for stretches of the game – notably the opening and closing periods – but kept up their excellent shape and, most importantly, work rate to fully earn their win on the night.
“We needed a win and the boys, I thought, deserved a win for their pure work rate,” assistant coach Steve Potts told whufc.com. “They played for one another.
“We’ve fallen short at times in games this season not through our football – we’ve played some good stuff and had good chances – but because slip-ups have cost us at the other end. Tonight, we defended really well and put our two chances away, then created more.
“Manchester United had chances too, but we stuck with it, kept on doing the right things and in the end I thought we stifled them quite well.
“You couldn’t say anybody put a bad performance in. I thought the senior lads played well considering we were a young team, but everyone chipped in.
“We had three youth team players starting tonight, so we were a young side, but we did really well.”
The visitors admittedly had much the better of the opening play and came close through on several occasions, only to be denied by a solid West Ham backline and some sharp reflexes from ‘keeper Nathan Trott.
The Hammers grew into the game as the first half wore on and began to build in confidence, fighting for every loose ball and defending with a real intensity – the perfect platform upon which to launch the counter-attacks which eventually clinched the result.
We rode our luck at times and they had a couple of shots that went wide, but I think we deserved a bit of luck
Potts was therefore full of praise for the collective endeavour on display from all in a Claret and Blue shirt, as every Hammer more than played their part in the vital victory.
“We had our chance first half and it was a good goal against the run of play, that’s for sure,” Potts reflected. “I think that gave us confidence as well.
“We knew beforehand they had quality in their team. When we looked at opposition clips beforehand, they stood out. We knew it was going to be a tough game and they showed that for the first 15 minutes. We rode our luck at times and they had a couple of shots that went wide, but I think we deserved a bit of luck.
“We haven’t had much luck so far this season, and then we got into the game, got the goal, had a couple of breakaways and then straight after half-time got a second goal which was great for us. It was something to really hold on to.
“We were having a few problems at first, but we solved those as the game went on. They had some really good attacking players who we nullified even more as it went on, and we had to pick our moments to go forward. With a bit more quality, we could have maybe even got another goal or two.”