With the fixtures piling up in an unusual season, the Carabao Cup gave David Moyes the opportunity to test some of the young players on the West Ham books.
It was good to see the integration between youth and experience (take note, Big Sam) in the hope that some of these players will be promoted to regular squad players, or even starters.
Let’s take a look at the young hopefuls that made an appearance in the League Cup and assess whether we’ve got something more to look forward to:
Ben Johnson: We’ve seen Johnson in the Premier League and we’ve been pretty impressed with his composure and ability against big opposition.
He started in the Cup against Charlton and put in a solid performance. He created a good chance for Haller, with a pacey run on the right wing. This is the kind of positivity we want!
It should be seen as a compliment that he was taken off at 3-0 as a player to rest if needed in the Premier League.
Fans have been looking forward to seeing more of Ben Johnson for a while and it looks like he’s firmly part of the plans.
Harrison Ashby: Well, this escalated quickly! After making a cameo debut against Charlton, Ashby was handed a start and 70 minutes against Hull. Social media and the press went wild for the 18-year-old.
He’s recently signed a new contract and was keen to impress on his debut with a promising cross, despite only being on the field for a few minutes.
His confidence continued into his second appearance against Hull with a decent defensive performance and an early chance to score.
Early impressions are very positive, with some fans calling for Ashby to become a regular member of the League squad and even to make a start. His pace, tackling ability and confidence were all highlighted. It was even suggested that he is a better prospect than Ben Johnson.
Conor Coventry: Coventry made a very brief appearance against Hull, but it has been his displays in the EFL Trophy that have made headlines. He scored in injury time to seal a 3-1 win over Southend, a goal that coach Dmitri Halajko admitted was rare.
The U23s went on to beat Colchester 1-0 in their second game in the competition. The winner was scored by none other than Conor Coventry. And it wasn’t a tap in!
He played a considerable role in the short pre-season campaign and trained with the first team daily.
This is a sure sign that Moyes has plans for the Republic of Ireland U21 international and is happy for him to both learn from those with more experience and discover his own strengths.
Emmanuel Longelo: It was a dream for Longelo to make his first team debut against Hull as he has been at the club since he joined the U10 side! He’s now 19-years-old and despite starting out as a striker, he has since floated between left- back and the left-wing.
Fans on social media are excited about his potential and have noted his natural talent going forward. But it has also been said that he’s probably not quite ready for the first team just yet, with a couple of nervy moments against Hull.
The general consensus is that a loan move may be good for Longelo, to get him playing regular football at a higher level than U23. Similarly to other players on this list, he has been really impressive in the EFL Trophy. If the U23s can get a good run in the competition, we’ll get to see more of him.
Ajibola Alese: Another player who has been on the books since the age of eight, a starting debut against Hull was a dream for Alese at the age of 19.
His stats were impressive during the game and as with many of the other young debutants, fans called for a step-up to the first team more regularly for Alese. His role as a central defender could be very useful for the Hammers in years to come!
He has been out on loan to Accrington Stanley, so has picked up 15 appearances and some experience. That’s alongside 19 appearances for England from U16s to U19s.
Even before this season kicked off, some fans questioned why Alese hasn’t been included in the first team squad given his displays in pre-season and the defensive vulnerabilities of the current squad.
To conclude: If the question is should West Ham fans be excited about the talent available in the U23 squad, the answer is very much ‘yes’.
Through performances in the EFL Cup, the EFL Trophy and pre-season, we’ve got a wealth of confident and gifted footballers at our disposal.
We can only hope that they will be nurtured well so that in a couple of years we will have a squad to be really proud of.