West Ham United Development Squad manager and Academy Director Terry Westley showed tremendous gratitude to the performance of his players during their first Premier League 2 Division 1 campaign after their season-closing defeat to champions Arsenal, despite finishing on a low.
The Young Hammers entertained the Young Gunners at London Stadium last Friday night sitting in fifth position, but the visitors knew if they won they would take home the Division 1 title.
This determination and the visitors’ superiority proved too much for the home side to handle as a Reiss Nelson strike and a brace from Eddie Nketiah rendered a late Domingos Quina consolation useless as the top dogs left with the three points.
After the game, we caught up with Westley in the Mixed Zone of the London Stadium with the former Luton Tom boss reflecting on the evening’s events and his side’s successful season 12 months after they were promoted from Division 2 via the play-offs.
“I don’t think one game should cloud all of our thinking of what’s happened in the season,” stated Westley.
“When you consider the loans we’ve had out in the second half of the season particularly, and the experience those boys have got from going out on loan, getting through to the knockout stages of the Checkatrade and playing under-18 players.
“We forget that Domingos Quina’s an under-18, the right-back Johnson’s an under-18, Conor Coventry, Alfie Lewis, they’re both under 18 years of age and can play in the youth team tomorrow but they’re playing at this level.
“And also, congratulations to Arsenal, you know, the end of the season and the best team are up there, and they have been with power, pace and cleverness in the top third better than anyone else.”
While West Ham’s first-team were somewhat unfortunate to be out-foxed by the North London club in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the teams’ PL2 clash, there was only one clear winner as knowledge by Westley.
“They (Arsenal) were too good, if you look at the overall picture of the game, with the ball, we were quite nice, and we carved open one or two good opportunities, but every time that they attacked, they could have got eight, they were that good.
“Our goalkeeper stood up to it, very well, the boy Dapo (Afolayan) at the top end of the pitch, it was probably his best performance for us.
“So, I thought Domingos Quina was as good as anybody else tonight out there so there were some good things, but that critical end of when the transition come and they attacked us, they were too strong for us.”
However, when the Claret & Blue starlets entered their maiden season at the highest level of English youth football, not many were tipping them to have the season they did.
For much of the campaign, Westley’s men could be found in and around the top four, even mixing it with the big boys in the upper echelons of third, second and third place in the early part of the term.
In the end, the East Londoners ended up fifth with a total of 31 points and that is how they will end the season should second-placed Liverpool get the better of seventh-placed Chelsea in two weeks’ time.
“We always set ourselves a target of trying to be in the top six, we said look, can we get ourselves safe? And in the first half of the season before the window opened, we collected something like 21 points or something like that, which was a big number, you stayed up with 21 points last year.
“So, we knew that if we kept Moses (Makasi) and Toni Martinez and Samuelsen around the team for the first half, we would probably be alright and that’s really how it’s panned out that we’ve sent them out in the second half of the season and found it far more difficult in the second half of the season than we did early on.”
The experienced gaffer continued, “But, Holland again tonight, done some good stuff, Browne in patches done some good stuff so it wasn’t all bad.”
The aforementioned likes of Spanish striker Toni Martinez, midfielder and U23 vice-captain Moses Makasi and winger Martin Samuelsen, among others, have all spent the second half of the campaign out on loan.
However, does Westley think that loaning players out can still fit around a successful season for the Reserve team, if they are loaned out in the second half of the season, much like how things have panned out in East London?
“Yeah, and if you do the planning right and if you do the planning right like the first half of the season, maybe and have a look at it.
“But, the loan’s got to be good, you know, we’re loaning people out now to the First Division or the Championship or the Bundesliga or the La Liga 2, it’s not like a Conference loan or, you know, lower down in the pyramid system,” announced the 58-year-old.
“These are good loans at a good standard and we’ll only do that now with the players we’ve got here. If the loan’s not where we want to send them, they’ll stay and play with us.”
Those that haven’t been loaned out so much this term and’s form has caught the eye of senior managers Slaven Bilic and then David Moyes, have got their chance to impress in the first-team.
These have included, with more regularity than others, names such as Irish duo Josh Cullen and Declan Rice, the latter having played 23 times in the Premier League this season at only 19 years of age.
In the recent Premier League draw with Chelsea at Stanford Bridge, as many as six Academy products made it into the matchday squad and that was something that Westley was delighted at, along with the other first-team berths that some of his players have enjoyed over the last few months.
“I think the Chelsea game, when the game ended, and Cullen, Declan Rice and Nobes were on the pitch, that’s a big plus for everybody around here.
“Really, that’s why I come to this club, when I got the chance to come out of the Premier League football again and come back into club football.
“I thought to myself long and hard, if I’m gonna do it, its got to be somewhere where there is a tradition of homegrown players and maybe we’re getting back to that.
“So, if I look at all the appearances for the first-team and I look at the way we’ve played and the standard we’ve set, it’s a very, very good season.”
But, has Westley any inkling of which players might be staying or going in terms of loans for the new season and which players might get their chances in the senior squad in pre-season and beyond?
“I think the question mark will be, how early on in the season will they be around the first-team squad? And they’ll go pre-season camp maybe with the first-team or the pre-season friendlies.
“I think early on, the first week, there’s a chance that the senior group might go away and with the World Cup being on and Internationals and players take longer to come back than other players.
“There may be opportunities for our boys to take part in that first pre-season trip and then they got an opportunity, but it will all depend on how good the loan is, the loan would have to be good.
“Vashon’s (Neufville’s) just walked past us there and again tonight, I thought he was very good tonight.
“Now, if a Second Division club come in, I won’t do it just because they’re wanting to go on loan, but if it’s a good First Division loan and we think that’s the level he needs to be at, then I’d consider it.” Proclaimed the ex-Birmingham City Academy Director.
The primary objective for his players now will undoubtedly be trying to force their way into first-team squads over the final few matches of the English Top-Flight season, to see if they can impress too on the big stage, before turning their attention to the 2018/2019 season.