The development squad had a mixed pre-season but they played several football league sides and the experienced gained seems to have worked in their favour as their campaign thus far has been superb.
Ian Hendon’s side lined up in the majority of matches with the side built around the same names such as Speigel, Driver, Potts, Chambers, Spence, Moncur, Lletget, Fanimo, Turgott, Hall and McCallum. The campaign started with a 3-1 home win. A brace from Paul McCallum and trialist Badirou sealed three points. The youngster’s then travelled to Everton for an early kick off on a Sunday morning and were impressive 5-1 winners in which Ian Hendon described as “a fantastic performance”. The Hammers goalscorers were Rob Hall, Moncur, Turgott, McCallum and own goal.
The Under-21 league has a stipulation that two games a season have to be played at the main ground, so their third match of the season was played against Bolton at Upton Park, West Ham fielded an experience side, which included Henderson, Tomkins, Diarra, O’Neil but lost 2-0. Hendon’s reaction was that his side “huffed and puffed but didn’t really threaten enough”. West Ham then travelled up to West Brom to play at the Hawthorns and came away with a battling 1-1 draw thanks to a Rob Hall equaliser.
Arsenal were the vistors to Rush Green on a wet evening and the development side come away with an impressive 4-1 victory after going one nil down with goals from Rob Hall, Fanimo, Potts and Turgott. Afterwards their delighted manager said “It was a sensational performance from the lads and if I am being perfectly honest I was a little stuck for words when the final whistle blew,”
The following week they were at home again to Norwich and again successful with a 2-0 victory again Rob Hall opened the scoring making it three in three before Pelly Ruddock grabbed the second. The team then travelled up to Blackburn’s training ground and secured another fantastic 2-0 win Paul McCallum and Mathias Fanimo. With a break for the international week, the development squad travelled to Braintree and were losing heavily when a floodlight failure called the game off. They then travelled up to Bolton and again secured a brilliant 1-0 win thanks to a Jordan Spence winner.
Hendon said: “It was difficult to go up there because they are tough lads and we knew it would be a test because they beat us at home so we got a little bit of revenge.” In the same week the under 21s once again came away with a 1-0 home victory against Everton. “We most definitely deserved the win,” Hendon said after the game. “it was very windy and the pitch was not perfect but I think we dealt with the conditions a little better than they did.”
With the title in sight the boys travelled to Reading, who fielded an experienced side, and lost their first game in seven with a heavy 3-0 defeat. Afterwards, Hendon said: “After the game I sat down and talked to the players because you cannot tear strips of them after they played against a very experienced side.” The players bounced back in a battling 2-1 victory at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground, after a goalless first half Rob Hall opened the scoring with a fantastic run and finish from the kick off, and when Arsenal equalised it looked like they would go on and get the winner, but the Hammers team spirit saw them grab a last minute winner through Paul McCallum.
The title was then wrapped up on Friday, November 16 when a late Paul McCallum goal was enough to seal a 1-0 victory against West Brom. And a delighted Hendon said “I have had pretty much the same group of players all the way through from the start of the season and that has been the major reason for our consistency and good results. “The vast majority of them are under-21, so it is not as if we have won the league because we have been using lots of over-age players.
“The fact that both the first team and development squads are quite small has helped both sides, in a funny sort of way, because it has meant that there has been a consistency of team selection. “Our midfield four of George Moncur, Sebastian Lletget, Blair Turgott and Matthias Fanimo have played in virtually every game, as have right-back Callum Driver and Paul McCallum up front. “As a coach, I have been able to work on our deficiencies and our strengths with the same group of players and there is nothing like having the same team available most weeks.”
The final two matches of the season allowed the management to try a few of the younger members of the squad and gave a few academy players their debuts. They lost 1-0 to Blackburn and then suffered a 3-1 defeat at Norwich, After the Blackburn match Hendon said “We lost three players in the morning to the first-team squad, which was basically our midfield, but that is great because I want the players to make the step up.” In the 3-1 defeat at Norwich, the match saw the return from injury of Jack Collison who was delighted to be back.
“It was great to be back out there again,I am obviously a little bit rusty but I have ticked a box by completing 45 minutes and hopefully it will be onwards and upwards from there.” In summary, Ian Hendon’s side have been exceptional in first half of the season and have gained the chance to compete in the Elite league in January joining Tottenham, Wolves, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, West Brom and Southampton.
The season has seen Ian being promoted recently to the first team set up following Wally Downes sudden departure and Under 18s manager Nick Haycock has been promoted to development manager for the remainder of the season. The club has also allowed Declan Hunt, Dominic Vose, Kenzer Lee and Jack Powell to leave the club as all four were unable to break into the development squad in their first year as professionals, In the Capital Cup against Crewe and Wigan a few of the youngsters were given their, debuts in Mathias Fanimo, George Moncur, Dylan Tombides, whilst Rob Hall, Jordan Spence, Danny Potts were also given run outs.
There were also places on the bench for Paul McCallum and Callum Driver, whilst recently in the Premier League Spence, Moncur and Sebastian Lleget have all appeared on the subs bench. After securing the title a few have gone on loan, Blair Turgott has gone to Bradford where he played against and beat Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, Paul McCallum has joined AFC Wimbledon, Danny Potts is on loan at Colchester United, whilst Rob Hall has joined Ravel Morrison at Birmingham City.