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Under-18s fall short against high-flying Hammers

Spurs 1-3 West Ham United (Under-18 Premier League)

Sat 25 February 2023, 14:04|Tottenham Hotspur

A below-par performance saw our Under-18s suffer a home defeat to league leaders West Ham United on Saturday.

After gifting the visitors an early lead, we struggled to get out of our own half in the first period and despite a slightly brighter second half which saw Damola Ajayi draw us level with his second goal in as many games, we still found it tough going and ultimately ended up on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline.

The Hammers arrived a considerable distance clear at the top of the table but our struggles were largely of our own making – only seven minutes had elapsed when centre-back Archie Chaplin was robbed by Callum Marshall after receiving a short pass from our own free-kick, with the West Ham striker running on to fire routinely past Luca Gunter.

In windy conditions, we had to be patient in our attempts to play out from the back, but ultimately didn’t get very far with West Ham forcing us backwards. Marshall planted a back-post header wide and early substitute Daniel Rigge’s dipping effort was tipped over the bar by Gunter, while hearts were in mouths when Han Willhoft-King dropped deep to collect a short pass from the keeper but accidentally diverted the ball against his own post mid-way through the first half.

Rigge dragged a shot wide and another Marshall header landed on the roof of the net in the lead-up to half-time, with determined centre-back Alfie Dorrington having to call upon all of his athleticism over the course of the game to prevent us from falling further behind.

The roles were reversed at the start of the second half as we kept the Hammers pinned in for a spell before deservedly drawing level on 57 minutes when the lively Jaden Williams delivered a cross from the right, Rio Kyerematen’s glancing effort hit the far post and Ajayi was able to convert from close range. But less than two minutes later, the visitors restored their lead as the influential Rigge curled a shot beyond Gunter into the top corner from inside the box.

Williams fired over and substitute Yusuf Akhamrich produced a smart stop from West Ham goalkeeper Finlay Herrick as we tried to equalise once more, but with the clock ticking down, the visitors wrestled back the momentum, Rigge denied by a slight touch from Gunter when clean through on goal and Gideon Kodua seeing his angled shot blocked before Marshall shrugged off Jahziah Linton to fire past Gunter at his right-hand post for 3-1 in the 88th minute. That goal appeared to give us another spark, though, and Williams thought his lofted effort from the left angle had crossed the line when it crashed against the inside of the far post with both Dorrington and Akhamrich subsequently going close. Gunter back-pedalled to produce one final save and prevent Marshall from getting his hat-trick deep into added time, but ultimately we didn’t do enough to maintain our positive start to 2023.

‘A disappointing performance and result’

Under-18s Coach Stuart Lewis was critical of his team’s display, telling us afterwards: “I was really disappointed, obviously with the result, but even more with our performance levels. Especially in the first half we lacked the necessary desire when you’re playing in a London derby, that football personality that all players have to bring to any game and I just felt it was a bit flat. We knew what the game would look like, we spoke to the boys about that, but any team that myself and the staff are involved in, we always demand enthusiasm, energy and that football resilience, and I felt that was lacking in the first half especially.

“The conditions were slightly against us but that’s no excuse. You have to play with understanding, you have to show that personality to take the ball under pressure because you know they’re pressing us, you know they’re aggressive in their play and that’s when you’ve got to show your technical composure, skills and knowhow. We didn’t do the football fundamentals well enough in the first half, there was a slight reaction after half-time leading up to the goal and I thought we did well to get back in it, but after that our decision-making and defensive blocks and stopping crosses – which we’ve been good at lately – weren’t good enough. There’s loads to take from the game, lots to reflect on, but it’s been a disappointing performance and result for us.”

Spurs 1-3 West Ham United (Under-18 Premier League)

Spurs: Gunter (c), Andiyapan (Akhamrich 56), Linton, Dorrington, Chaplin, Willhoft-King (Hall 67), McKnight, Kyerematen, Williams, Olusesi (Black 67), Ajayi. Substitutes (not used): Bloedorn, King.