Development Squad

Why Premier League 2 Play-Off Promotion Is Key To Our Youngsters' Development

West Ham United’s Under-23s ensured a play-off place in the Second Division of ‘Premier League 2’ last night by defeating West Bromwich Albion by four goals to nil at The Hawthorns.

The Hammers are currently in the second tier of the Under-23 hierarchy and, as such, our young players are not testing themselves against the best in their age category on a consistent basis. In turn, this makes the jump to Premier League football with the first team that much bigger and is probably why so many of our kids have been loaned out to gain experience at a more competitive level in the Championship, League One and League Two, to varying degrees of success.

The Irons were one of four clubs contesting the two remaining play-off places and started yesterday evening a point and a place behind fifth-placed Blackburn, outside the play-off positions. Two goals from Martin Samuelsen and one each from Dan Kemp and Nathan Holland (pictured above) ensured the Hammers claimed the final play-off spot, finishing in fifth place and ousting Blackburn, who drew 0-0 at home against Aston Villa.

West Ham will now travel to second-placed Wolves at Molineux in a one-off tie on a date to be arranged. Should the young Hammers progress through to the Final, they will meet either Newcastle or Fulham, again in a one-off tie to be played at either St James’ Park or Craven Cottage (the final takes place at the home ground of the team who finished highest in the league). All play-off matches are one-off ties, decided by extra-time and then penalties if the match is level after 120 minutes.

The likes of Reece Burke, George Dobson and Toni Martinez (pictured below scoring against our play-off opponents Wolves) should be able to play as they will no longer have commitments with their loan clubs. However, Reece Oxford and Josh Cullen may be involved in Football League play-off matches with Reading and Bradford respectively.

Terry Westley’s Hammers will go into the play-off semi-final with confidence from their two previous matches with Scott Sellars’ Wolves earlier this campaign – a 2-2 draw was recorded at home back in September and the young Irons won the away match 4-0 in December.

Looking ahead to potential Final opponents, West Ham beat Peter Beardsley’s Newcastle 3-1 at home back in August and recorded a battling 0-0 draw at St James’ Park despite Arthur Masuaku’s first-half dismissal. The Magpies did knock the Hammers out of the Premier League Cup last month though, with a 3-2 win. Fulham, meanwhile, beat West Ham 4-1 at Craven Cottage in November, although the young Hammers won the home match 2-0 in February. The Cottagers’ Under-23 manager is Peter Grant, who was Alan Pardew’s assistant when West Ham won promotion in 2005 and reached the FA Cup Final the following year.

Swansea won promotion automatically by winning Division 2 and will now compete with the likes of Everton, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Man Utd in Division One next season. Promotion, and consequently exposure to playing against the best in their age group, will be of great importance to the development of West Ham United’s young players, both now and in the future, and cannot be underestimated. Our Under-18s are currently fourth in the Southern Division of their league, behind only Chelsea, Arsenal and Reading, and three points clear of Tottenham. It would be a shame if they had to go from performing well at the top end against such clubs to competing in the second tier of the Under-23 league.

Promotion and the subsequent place at the top table at Under-23 level will provide an extra key stepping stone for our current Under-23s to use towards hopefully developing into first-team Premier League players at our club, while paving the way for the current Under-18s (and future Under-23 team) to maintain their own progress by continuing to play against the best the country has to offer.

Here’s to wishing our next generation all the very best over the coming crucial days and weeks – Come On You Irons!

Player Analysis

Havard Nordtveit Finally Comes Good - Watch Out Mark Noble!

I was quite excited when I heard we had signed the Borussia Moenchengladbach captain, Havard Nordtveit. What was not to like? People don’t become captain of their side without having something about them. And he could play in a variety of positions. Just the sort of player we needed. Or so I thought.

In pre-season he looked totally out of sorts. As the season started he didn’t improve. Every performance was terrible. He looked hapless. What a turkey, we all thought. But there was a nagging doubt in my mind. He mainly played at right back and once or twice in central defence. But wasn’t he a central midfielder? Wasn’t that his preferred position? Clearly with Kouyate, Noble and Obiang playing well, he didn’t get a look in there. Until Saturday.

Against Everton I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was as if Nordtveit had become a different player. Cool, calm and tenacious. Spraying balls over the field. Running with the ball. Attacking. Shooting. He wasn’t far off being my man of the match. On that performance he deserves to keep his place and the chance to show us more of what he can do.

Mark Noble is under real pressure. Edimilson Fernandes, and now Nordtveit, have shown that there is real competition for the second central midfield space. And that is surely only a good thing.

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The HamburgHammer Column

Will it be a cool or a cruel summer ? To chop and change or remain calm.

A 0:0 draw in general should not be the kind of game lingering in the memory of the common football fan for a long time. This one will be if you are a West Ham fan.
Why ? Because after plenty of disappointing performances this season this draw against Everton was a very good and disciplined showing from our lads.
Bilic got the gameplan spot on and got grit, fight and effort from every player out there which basically were the ones not injured or suspended.
We were scraping at the bottom of the barrel, line up wise, but everyone knew what he had to do on the pitch and we nullified a very good side on the day.

So, we can play a bit after all, as long as we don’t play players out of position and also give those a fighting chance who have featured very little so far this season, not in their prefered position anyway. Havard Nordtveit was the standout performer for me on the day, not in absolute terms as probably Masuaku, Collins or Lanzini were ahead of Nordtveit in terms of overall contribution.

However, considering the criticism hurled at him throughout the course of the season, it was a massive relief to see him perform like this. I knew when we signed him from Moenchengladbach that he was a very decent player, not one of the obvious stars selling shirts by the thousands, but one of the much needed workhorses that every team needs but who rarely get noticed until they are out and you only then realise what you are missing out on.

Nordtveit is not there to provide assists and goals, he is there to help us keep the ball (or win it back) and it is also in his job description to stop the opposition team doing their thing, playing and running circles around our midfielders. Given a run of consecutive games in his prefered position I can see him adding a lot of composure and solidity to our side. Plus we may also see another one of his traits that made him a cornerstone of the Moenchengladbach team: A fierce shot from distance, not unsimilar to the strikes delivered by The Hammer, former West Ham and Aston Villa legend Thomas Hitzlsperger. Which also applies to freekicks.

So if you want something a bit different to Lanzini’s swerving efforts, why not give Nordtveit a go? Mind you, he may take the opposition goalkeeper’s Loaf off, should that geezer be stupid enough trying to stop those shots!

The Everton game has also given me food for thought about our goalkeeping situation and I am in a bit of a dilemma there. Both of our custodians are prone to some mindblowing blunders. None of them is the finished article. Everton didn’t manage a shot on goal all game. So even I would have finished that game with a clean sheet if I had been playing on the day. There was an early incident where Adrian nearly lost the ball in his own box before ruthlessly claiming the ball, charging in fiercely.

While I still hate his tendency to play keepy uppy with a back pass (which I see as unnecessary and risky showboating really) I like his presence in the box.
Adrian wouldn’t have allowed the opposition to boss him around prior to a cornerkick like Randolph did against Sunderland. I am not saying that overall Adrian is the better goalkeeper, it’s really a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other here. But a clean sheet is a clean sheet and Adrian should stay in goal now for the next few games.

Another tricky one for me, especially thinking forward to our summer transfer window, is Sakho. We all know what he can bring to our side, if healthy and in the right frame of mind minus any attitude. I still think he will get back to his best, for me all his frustrations stem from the hunger and desire to play and perform for the fans and his teammates.
That long back injury didn’t exactly help his confidence I’m sure, especially considering it might have been dealt with a lot sooner if Sakho had only agreed to go through with that surgical repair straight away when it apparently was recommended to him by doctors.

The good thing about Sakho is that we know what he is capable of. He already is at the club and doesn’t cost a transfer fee, probably just a moderate wage rise is necessary to keep him happy. Sakho strikes me as a very proud player who tends to be too much on edge at times. I still see him as a very good striker which is the main thing for me.
Striker will be one of those positions we need to address in the summer and I suppose it’s fair to say we can no longer seriously rely on Carroll being our Number One striker to build our gameplan around for next season – his injury record simply doesn’t allow us to do that anymore.

I know Carroll and his family are happy in London and it’d take a ludicrous financial offer for him to even contemplate moving to China for a season or two. But if I had to decide about a striker leaving it would be Carroll. Depending on how many strikers we let go (Calleri, Carroll, Sakho, maybe even Fletcher) we will surely see two or three strikers coming in over the summer. Let’s hope we get it right this time.

Which brings me to the headline of this week’s column. This summer will be very much a make or break moment for our club. Everyone needs to and should learn from this disastrous season. Numerous mistakes have been made by various people within the club hierarchy, in the boardroom and on the training pitches.
Pointing fingers is one thing. I’d rather like to see a constructive approach here.

None of us wants a repeat of this season which is unlikely anyway as we will not move stadium again anytime soon. Which is one distracting factor out of the way.
Of course you could gamble a bit (or a lot), let the manager go, bring in a new manager with a new team of backroom staff, replace half the team with new arrivals, shake it all up and hope it’ll all miraculously improve.

Or you could trust that things will improve if you continue to put your trust in Bilic, support him with transfers in the summer and let him make a fresh start, maybe with a few tweaks to his staff of assistant managers and coaches. It’s been a tough old season on various fronts and I have said before, how in God’s name Bilic took everything thrown at him (while suffering more personal pain through his hip problems which should be sorted out over the summer as well), took it on the chin, rarely moaned or complained at the circumstances but carried on trying to do his best for West Ham, well, it’s quite amazing to see.

I cannot help but admire the way Bilic has been handling it all in such a dignified professional manner. Yes, I sometimes was frustrated with his choice of lineup or substitutions made like most of us fans were, but to hear a pundit mention during the game that Bilic had to make do without eleven different first team players this season who were each missing at least two months through injury, not to mention the Payet issue, the new surroundings of the OS (basically taking home advantage away from us all season), it is a minor miracle we are still in touching distance to finishing in tenth place at this point.

Other managers in the situation might well have had a nervous breakdown or possibly walked away months ago. Not Slaven Bilic. I am convinced he has done more than enough to deserve the chance to see out his contract at least. If things don’t improve next season, find a new manager to replace him. I know modern football is harsh and fickle and there rarely is room for sentiment, loyalty or decency in this day and age. But as for Bilic I hope he will get the opportunity to turn things around and deliver better times for our club and its loyal fanbase. Slaven in my book is one of the very few decent people still associated with our club at this point.

But of course the board will make this decision without paying too much attention to blogs or social media. And neither should they be. They should ask themselves though:
Can we really bring in the kind of manager who is likely to do better than Bilic while having to work under the financial constraints of a club like ours ?

If I haven’t mentioned Concordia yet, well, there is a good reason for that. They lost at home to Dassendorf (not to be confused with Duesseldorf) by a 0:4 scoreline which was also the halftime result. That’s all you really need to know about that particular game. COYI!

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Lukaku went Cuckoo

Lukaku didn’t score. Let that sink in: Romelu Lukaku didn’t score against us. So this is what it feels like to play against Everton without the one goal Lukaku handicap. Prior to this match, the Belgian scored a goal against us in each of his nine previous appearances. Had he scored in this match, he would have been on double figures for consecutive goals scored! Going into this match, I was deeply concerned, given the fact that he has already scored two dozen goals so far this season. This year could be the one he makes a big move elsewhere. He is the top scoring PL player this calendar year netting 14 times with just 23 shots on target. Only Lionel Messi has scored more often in the top five European leagues than Lukaku with 17 goals.

Even though he failed to register a single shot on target in this match, I have to pay homage to the Belgian striker who could make a bigger name for himself at PSG, Barcelona or Real Madrid. I personally think that we won’t see him play in the Premier League next season. He has stated countless times before that he wants to play Champions League football. Perhaps looking back at his career will guide us to the answer. With that, we will be able to better work out whether we are going to lose a potential six points or not in the seasons to come (they all count)!

Lukaku signed for FC Anderlecht at the age of 16 in May 2009. It only took him a few months to get into the first-team just in time for next season, which he ended as the top goalscorer in the Belgian Pro League with 15 goals and won the title with his side. He also scored four goals during the club’s run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Makes sense for a youngster to get Europa League football, so that they can expect Champions League football when they are older. Well, that’s true if his name is Romelu Lukaku. In August 2011, he signed for Chelsea for £17M (including add-ons).

When his team won the Champions League against Bayern Munich, he admitted that he was disappointed with his involvement in his debut season, and as such, refused to hold the trophy as he didn’t feel like a winner. I mean, wow! What 19 year old kid would say that they wouldn’t want to hold arguably one of the most difficult trophies to obtain? John Terry celebrated like a complete wally, despite not even playing in that match, whilst Lukaku didn’t even let himself be happy. From there, it is worth noting both are talented, but one actually cares about his footballing career on, and more importantly, off the pitch. He later went on to outscore all of his Chelsea teammates on loan at West Brom and Everton the two seasons after. Additionally, he is the first foreign player to score 80 goals before his 24th birthday.

Our encounters with Everton over recent years have been awful – that is down to one man. Lukaku’s first appearance for Everton just had to be against us! Back in September of 2013, he came off the bench for Nikica Jelavic in the second half – who would play him? Oh, right. Us. Anyway, he came on in the second half and scored the winner in the 86th minute. That is the simplest way I can describe our relationship with him: he scores a goal and we lose the game.

Despite the hype around Lukaku and Everton, this was one of the most boring matches to watch all season. It is our first goalless draw this season and indeed at the London Stadium. The thing is, that this wasn’t an off day. There is a reason they have now failed to win any of their last six away games. Something that really caught me by surprise and indeed others who made Lukaku captain in their Fantasy Football teams (admit it) was that Everton failed to get a shot on target in the whole match. In fact, it took them until the 70th minute to register their first shot. In all honesty, Everton just weren’t at the races. Koeman said that if he was allowed to do so, he would have made 10 changes at half time.

Furthermore, I feel that whilst Everton didn’t attack like they normally do, we defended with a lot of confidence. Collins, in particular, played an absolute blinder. In previous games, through balls have snuck through when we’ve played with three at the back. With Lukaku to stop, it could have gone all wrong. Fortunately, our defence was at hand making lots of clearances. Masuaku and Nordtveit could have been forgotten about already had the manager not given them second chances. Nordtveit kept his second clean sheet out of two games playing in his native position, whilst Masuaku’s new hairstyle seems to have invigorated him, as he made seven dribbles and tracked back well. Speaking of players that never should have been considered to be completely dropped, Adrián kept his fourth clean sheet of the season; the same number Darren Randolph has kept, despite the Spaniard playing 10 games fewer. In short, we never deserved to concede. Something I can’t say too often this season.

Some new signings work out and some don’t – Calleri is currently in the latter pile. Our lack of attacking options meant that we struggled to finish. We had 15 shots with only three on target. In some ways, it is disappointing not to have got all three points, but given the predicament we are in regards to attacking options, we can’t complain. On the plus side, this draw shows the strength of our character. We have had 11 players out for at least 2 months this season, yet are currently in 13th. It is important that we keep this mentality against Stoke next week. If we can somehow end the season in the top half, that form could carry on into next season.

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Match Thread

Match Thread: West Ham v Everton

West Ham v Everton
Olympic Stadium
KO 3pm
TV: None
Radio: BBC Radio London

Everton Starting XI

Please use this thread to comment on the match as it progresses.

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