West Ham United’s U23 coach Dmitri Halajko was thrilled with his young defence after a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Valencia in the Premier League International Cup curtain raiser on Wednesday night, speaking to the club’s official website.
At just 17, Harrison Ashby was asked to make a daunting step up to U23 action after Reece Hannam was ruled out at the last minute.
A regular for the U18s, Ashby started alongside fellow 17-year-old Kennan Appiah-Forson and 15-year-old Jamal Baptiste at the Chigwell Construction Stadium.
So Halajko must have been concerned that his 13-game unbeaten run in charge of the U23s would be coming to an end against high quality opposition from the Castellon Coast.
But while Nathan Holland was the hero on the night, scoring the only goal of the game after a perfectly weighted Joe Powell pass, Halajko was thrilled to see Ashby and Appiah-Forson step up to the plate at the other end.
“It was a really tough game, probably one of the hardest ones we’ve had, that we edged tonight,” said Halajko, who recently worked as head of player development at Leicester City.
“(The defence) haven’t played together at all, especially not at this level.
“Harrison (above) 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.”
Clearly, West Ham are not short of talented young defenders at youth level.
And with the likes of Powell, Grady Diangana and Declan Rice forcing their way into Manuel Pellegrini’s plans last season, some of Halajko’s brightest talents should be confident of following in their footsteps.
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