Irons in the Fire - Notes for West Ham United U21
Monday, 13th Sep 2021 15:00
With the first game of the Papa John’s Trophy at home to West Ham’s U21s approaching, TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp.
The third of four competitions Ipswich Town are featuring in this season has come around with the Papa John’s Trophy the next tournament for Paul Cook’s side to tackle.
Their opponents for the first of the three group games, West Ham United U21s, reached the second round of the competition last season after beating Portsmouth, Southend United and Colchester United.
Last season, the Hammers’ U23 side finished the league season with six wins, six draws and 12 defeats in the Premier League 2, settling in 11th place out of 13 teams. The Hammers’ U18s side finished last season with six wins, seven draws and 11 defeats as they ended the campaign in 10th place out of 13 in the U18 Premier League South.
West Ham United appointed Dmitri Halajko in June of 2019 as their academy U23 lead coach, overseeing all aspects of the U23 side at the London Stadium. “[Dmitri] Halajko has done a superb job”, “Four goals conceded in 23 second-half minutes will not please boss Dmitri Halajko”, “Think Dmitri Halajko will get the best out of [Armstrong Okoflex.]”
The former Norwich City U16s coach masterminded the Hammers’ return to the top flight of youth football at the end of the 2019/20 season and has been the man in charge since. Very likely he will be the one heading up the West Ham U21 side that arrives at Portman Road on Tuesday.
West Ham’s academy has seen a number of their core side from last season leave the club on loan deals, giving them valuable first-team experience away from the club.
Conor Coventry has joined Peterborough United for the season, with wide players Nathan Holland moving to Oxford on loan and Dapo Afolayan, scorer of two goals at Portman Road on Saturday, joining Bolton on a permanent basis.
“A loan to the Championship is the right move in my opinion.” Ademipo Odubeko, one of the Hammers’ standout forwards last season, has joined Huddersfield Town on a season-long loan with goalkeepers Nathan Trott and Joseph Anang joining AS Nancy and Stevenage respectively.
From the side that finished last season with a 2-2 draw at home to the Arsenal U23s, four of the starting XI remain, with a handful of the bench also staying with the academy.
In terms of the academy’s strengths, the fans have been impressed with the level some of their talent is now playing at. “At least it's encouraging that Odubeko and Coventry have got loans to clubs in the Championship”, “West Ham make club history with new academy appointments to strengthen coaching set-up! The appointment of Nicole Farley (coach) and Elliot Whitely (coach) is another step towards a more diverse coaching staff at West Ham.”
However, supporters have been a bit worried about the lack of talent reaching the first team in recent seasons. “Back in the day our academy was very well known for producing a decent stream of first-team players but these days apart from the odd exception there are very few who come through and feature at a decent level in the game.”
Leeds United U23s 2-2 West Ham U23s
“What a battle out there this afternoon”, “Two more committed teams you will not see”, “A really impressive point for the Hammers in West Yorkshire.”
“Goals from the impressive Harrison Ashby and Jamal Baptiste”, “Baptiste is in acres of space inside the six-yard area to head down, hard and past the keeper”, “Over the wall, right in that top corner from 25 yards [from Ashby].”
West Ham made eight changes from their Premier League Cup defeat to Wolves last week, bringing back in regulars such as Ashby and Okoflex, two players likely to be involved on Tuesday.
“Scotland U21 international goalkeeper Brian Kinnear joined West Ham United in the summer of 2021”, “Signing young players in the hope they might be the next Lionel Messi, or in this case the next Alan Rough, won't be an expensive mistake if they tank”, “What’s the point of loaning out a U23 keeper [Nathan Trott] and buying another?”
Signed in the summer, young goalkeeper Kinnear will provide competition for number one goalkeeper Krisztian Hegyi and could make the trip to Portman Road.
Hegyi has been described as “one of the brightest goalkeeping prospects in Europe”, “Hungarian goalkeeper Hegyi is supposed to be a decent prospect”, “[West Ham goalkeeper coach] Xavi Valero spoke highly of him when we signed him and some big clubs has interest at the time.”
Very likely he will be the goalkeeper between the sticks for West Ham on Tuesday, unless a senior goalkeeper is picked.
“An attack-minded right-back by trade.” Ashby was rumoured to be on the verge of joining Celtic on deadline day for a season-long loan. “I would like to see the likes of Ashby and anyone else who has been identified as having potential given the bench places.”
Ashby has been a stalwart for the U23 side for a few seasons, and has the potential to be one of a few to push themselves into the first-team picture. Maybe he goes to Croatia on Thursday [for the Europa League tie against Dinamo Zagreb]? “A touch of class about this lad. Going to be a proper player.”
“An uncompromising centre-back possessing good athleticism and technical ability, [Levi] Laing is also comfortable as a full-back or defensive midfielder”, “We have another graduate Levi Laing signing his professional contract”, “He likes to defend, one-on-one defending tackles and can play multiple positions.”
Another player eligible for the U18 side, Laing has made the step up to the 23s side seamlessly. He played this morning against Leeds United, so could be in line for another start on Tuesday.
“Will Greenidge won the Dylan Tombides award last year. Promising young right back who's a West Ham fan too”, “Only returned to the pitch in late April after five months out with injury”, “Very solid in the tackle and comfortable on the ball.”
Signed from Portuguese giants SL Benfica a few years back, Greenidge is another making a big impression on the fanbase with his impressive displays from across the backline.
“[Ajibola] Alese made such a towering full West Ham United debut against Hull”, “I'm reading good things about Ali Alese”, “I would hope if Alese is any good he would have been out on loan at a better level than League Two to be honest.”
A name known to Cambridge United supporters, Alese joined the U’s on loan from the Hammers for the second half of last season, but he only featured on two occasions. Captain for the Leeds game, could be a ‘senior’ player in the West Ham side Tuesday night.
“Junior Robinson is a tenacious right-sided defender - and occasional midfielder - who enjoys getting forward and providing good quality in wide areas”, “Likes to produce driving runs from full-back - as well as the odd skill move or two!”,
The young defender is eligible for the Hammers’ U18 side, having played for them Saturday morning, but has been moved up to the U23 side to provide competition for Ashby on occasion this season.
“Tall, strong and comfortable in possession”, “Would rather have Baptiste as back-up than [Kurt] Zouma”, “I was very impressed with Baptiste when I saw him for the first time in a [pre-season friendly] against Wycombe a little while back.”
After a goal in the Leeds game, Jamal Baptiste looks to be a player nailed down for a starting place on Tuesday night. Starting in centre-midfield, Baptiste is very capable in the defence, and wants to be on the ball when he can.
Emmanuel Longelo is a “former forward turned athletic full-back”, “Capable of producing rapid bursts forward and threatening crosses with his favoured left foot.”
Longelo has all the attributes required to be a very impressive left wing-back in the future and can be slightly unlucky to not be on the eyes of League One and League Two sides for a loan deal. “I can't really see who's next to make the step up, maybe Longelo but that's about it at the moment I fear.”
“Typically, [Bernardo Rosa is] a creative midfielder who likes to get forward”, “He’s a really good all-round individual who covers a lot of areas important for a modern-day player”, “He needs to carry on working hard and developing.”
West Ham’s Brazilian talent Bernardo Rosa has been popular for his versatility in recent years, showing comfort in attacking and defensive positions. A disrupted campaign ensued last season, but he looks to be back with the academy side this season.
Summer signing Pierre Ekwah has received numerous plaudits for his displays this season in the U23s, being described as “a powerful defensive midfielder also capable of dropping into the backline”, “He perfectly combines class and power”, “Pierre already wearing the armband? Yeah, he’s going to be absolute class.”
“[Ossama Ashley is] athletic, energetic and unwaveringly tenacious”, “Unerring tendency to leave absolutely everything out on the pitch”, “No disrespect to the young man, but it is a tad uninspiring [signing] to say the least.”
Ashley joined the Hammers from AFC Wimbledon last summer, but has had to deal with a couple of injuries since his arrival at the London Stadium. Another talented option in the midfield, West Ham look to have a very strong crop coming through in that area.
“A livewire attacking midfielder capable of opening up the tightest of defences”, “We should be looking at promoting some of these kids like Alfie Lewis and Dan Chesters, what is the point of an academy if we don't even attempt to bring them through?”, “One of the top talents in the academy.”
Another player with history in the Papa John’s Trophy, Chesters has been heralded for his ability to play across multiple positions. Typically, a centre midfielder, he can also cover at full-back.
“A calming, conscientious and composed influence in midfield”, “Apparently, Freddie is even better [than his father, one-time Hammers West Ham full-back Steve Potts]”, “Not for a second am I saying Freddie Potts is gonna be Frank Lampard but there’s absolutely no harm in giving the boy a go.”
The brother of Luton Town’s Dan Potts, Freddie has been with the Hammers since he was six. Comfortable in the middle of the park, he has also been used in the centre of defence.
“A dynamic midfielder who boasts speed, an eye for goal and the vision to pick out an incisive pass”, Kamarai Swyer was handed the number nine shirt for the Leeds United game, suggesting he was used further forward. “A forward capable of playing across the frontline, most often featuring as both a winger and a playmaker”. Swyer played for the Hammers in the Papa John’s Trophy last season so has experience in this competition under his belt.
U18s starlet Archie Woods has been described as a “combative midfielder who covers every blade of grass, scores goals and loves a tackle”, “Woods's communication on the pitch is second to none”, “A natural leader.”
Woods played for the West Ham U18s this morning in a 3-1 victory over Leicester City, but could be called up for the visit to Portman Road.
Keenan Appiah-Forson is a “tenacious, energetic midfield player”, “I really like the young kid Keenan Appiah-Forson, if Rice goes I would like this guy to step in and step up”, “Personally I’d promote Keenan Appiah-Forson before [playing Issa Diop in midfield.]” A player highly regarded amongst the fanbase, a comparison to homegrown talent Declan Rice shows the kind of player he looks to be.
“Blessed with quick feet and an uncanny knack of finding space in dangerous areas”, “Looks very promising he was causing us a lot of problems”, “One of the most promising teenagers in English football.”
Amadou Diallo is regarded as one of the most talented players in the academy, and was fast-tracked to the U23 side a few years back. Once the captain of an England youth side, Diallo is a tricky wide player with a lot of potential.
English youth talent Jayden Fevrier “became the youngest ever player to be fielded by West Ham United’s reserve team”, “His attitude has opened doors for him and he made a strong first impression”, “Jayden Fevrier - serious talent there.”
Fevrier is very comfortable both in defence and further forward, and could be an option for West Ham on the left-flank next week.
Guinea-Bissau born Mesaque Dju is a “quick and skilful youngster - capable of playing out wide or as a centre forward”, “I’d love to see more from Mesaque Dju, big hype around him when we signed him”, “Mesaque Dju could be quite the prospect.”
Signed alongside Xande Silva, now with Nottingham Forest, Dju featured for Portugal in the U19 European Tournament in 2017.
“The winger's potential is such that it is surely a matter of time until his talents sparkle again”, “Tricky winger.”
Lennon Peake has been unfortunate with injuries during his time with West Ham, much the same as Teddy Bishop during his Ipswich spell, but looks to be back on track, will be touch-and-go for his fitness.
“Skilful, quick and sharp in front of goal”, “He's not a striker, he's a left winger and whilst he looks talented he's not got that physicality yet needed to bully defenders”, “The manager is keeping him under wraps before unleashing his predatory capabilities when they are most required.”
Okoflex is the highest-profile signing in the academy this season, arriving from Scottish Premiership side Celtic. Exciting and energetic across the frontline, Okoflex is the one player being called upon for a first-team appearance soon by the West Ham faithful.
“Typically deployed on the left wing, but equally adept playing through the middle”, “Would rather see us give one or two promising younger players like Coventry and Nevers the odd run out to see how they cope against the big boys”, “Thierry Nevers is a baller.”
Signed from Reading in the summer, Nevers looks to be main striker called upon for West Ham’s U23 side this season, already scoring a handful of goals this season. Could be the frontman on Tuesday, will be one to keep an eye on.
Possible Senior Inclusions
With the Papa John’s Trophy allowing a few senior players within each Premier League academy side, some clubs have taken the option to bring in one or two players lacking fitness across the last few seasons. West Ham themselves used Andriy Yarmolenko, Ben Johnson and Craig Dawson last season in their Papa John’s Trophy run.
However, with the Hammers playing in the Europa League this season and their opening fixture away to Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday, Halajko may opt to pick a full reserve side for their trip to Portman Road on Tuesday.
Photo: Action Images
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