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Hammers in fine European win

West Ham under 23s lead coach watched his team beat Valencia B last night to extend their winning run to 13.

And lead coach Dmitri Halajko poured praise on the back line after the  Premier League International Cup 2019/20 season opener.

Reece Hannam withdrew from the starting line-up shortly before kick-off due to illness and was replaced by U18s regular Harrison Ashby.

Ashby joined 15-year-old Jamal Baptiste and 17-year-old Keenan Appiah-Forson in defence, and Halajko and it was extraordinary to see the team record a clean sheet.

Halajko said: “It was a really tough game, probably one of the hardest ones we’ve had, that we edged tonight.

“It was a young back four for us – a different back four. They haven’t played together as a back four at all, especially not at this level.

“Reece had been ill the past couple of days, so we were just monitoring how he was throughout today, hoping that he could make it, and unfortunately he couldn’t.

So we brought in Harrison who’s just come back off international duty to play in there, and Jamal, who’s only 15-years-old and played centre-half alongside him.

“Harrison normally plays right-back, Keenan normally plays centre midfield, Jamal hasn’t played at this level before, so for them to gel together today and keep a clean sheet is a massive achievement.”

In a tight fixture against their technically gifted opponents, the Hammers took an early lead when good work from Ashby saw the ball worked to Powell, who slid it through for Nathan Holland to run clear and score in the eighth minute.

The Hammers were in control of the first half but the Spaniards improved in the second despite  not creating too many huge openings.

“We edged it 1-0 and I think that’s probably just about a fair reflection on the game, I think,” Halajko said afterwards.

“We knew we wanted to go and press them and try and unsettle them on the ball, and then play our football when that allowed, and I think that worked well first half.

“I think we edged the first half, and we were good to come in with a 1-0 lead. The second half I think was a lot, lot tighter, and it ultimately could’ve gone either way.”

That 13 game unbeaten run will again be put to the test when the U23s play host to West Bromwich Albion on Monday 16 September in the Premier League 2 Division 2, of which they currently sit joint top.

ClaretandHugh says: There were fears when former Academy chief Terry Westley left the set up that the end of a little golden era may be coming to an end. With the likes of Rice, Diangana, Coventry and Holland emerging that was understandable. But the importance placed on the youngsters by Pellegrini has become crystal and he has a man in charge who is hopefully going to lead the squad back to Premier League 2 Division One whilst putting great talent before the manager. Twelve games without defeat is extraordinary at any level and we will be watching the result from West Brom closely on the same night as the first team are in the midlands at Villa. Great to see Nathan Holland grabbing a goal and showing up as probably the mom. Let’s hope he’s not far from getting his Premier League call up as he has been the one we have been waiting to bust through for a couple of years now.

About Hugh5outhon1895

Hugh Southon is a lifelong Iron and the founding editor of ClaretandHugh. He is a national newspaper journalist of many years experience and was Bobby Moore's 'ghost' writer during the great man's lifetime. He describes ClaretandHugh as "the Hammers daily newspaper!" Follow on Twitter @hughsouthon