Terry Westley’s U23s succumbed to an embarrassing 1-5 defeat to a rampant Derby County side in their PL2 Division One encounter last night, on what was yet another evening to forget in Stratford.
Darren Wassall’s men were always in control of the affair, taking the game by the scruff of the neck after less than 30 seconds as Offrande Zanzala finished past Nathan Trott and the lead was doubled by Luke Thomas a short while after.
Just before the break, Zanzala popped up again to put his side in a very comfortable position, then quickfire strikes from Charles Vernam and Jayden Bogle early in the second period meant that a late goal from substitute Grady Diangana was merely a hopeless constellation.
The Claret & Blue starlets had headed into the clash with a chance to go second in The Division One Table, just one point behind the leaders, but instead remain fourth, whereas, The Rams are now just a point behind Arsenal in fifth.
From the start in East London, Westley had made four changes from the impressive away Checkatrade Trophy victory over Bristol Rovers before The International Break.
Coming into the starting Xl was the returning pair of Tunji Akinola and Skipper Moses Makasi in addition to Joe Powell and Dan Kemp, they replaced first-teamer Declan Rice, Josh Pask, midfielder Conor Coventry and injured playmaker Nathan Holland.
Whereas, Wassall decided also on four alterations from his team’s Premier League cup defeat at home to rivals Nottingham Forest.
George Thorne and Jayden Bogle took the places of Kyron Stabana and Max Bird, whilst further up the field, Alex Babos and danger man Offrande Zanzala came in for Lewis Walker and Emil Riis Jakobsen.
On a chilly night in The Capital, the young Irons would be shocked by an incredible start from County.
With just 28 seconds on the clock, the quick Zanzala was played in by Joe Bateman, before getting the better of Alex Pike and finishing past Trott from a tough angle, the second game in succession that the youngsters had conceded within the first minute.
Derby, who made the most of their counter-attacking play, wouldn’t take very long to stretch out their advantage to two goals, with a darting run and pass from Alex Babos teeing up Thomas to beat Trott from a similar position.
Westley’s shell-shocked side would grow back into the game after that, but the visitors only needed one breakaway to effectively end the affair before half-time had even come around.
Having gone close through Pike and Martin Samuelsen, the hosts were caught sleeping in defence once again as the ever-threatening Thomas struck the bar with an effort that then fell to Zanzala.
The ball struck the knee of the former Chester man and rolled into the net, perhaps the most fortunate moment of the evening for The Rams.
If there was one thing that our starlets needed to do in the second period, it was start fast and when the polar opposite of that very thing occurred, the race had been well and truly run.
That was, of course, two Derby goals in the space of three second-half minutes, a real sucker-punch.
First of all, Babos was played in superbly and forced an even better save from Trott although the ball rebounded into the path of Vernam, who finished well past the England U20 keeper.
County looked to be running away with it, when Trott was able to save again, this time getting in the way of Thomas’ shot, but the ball fell back to Bogle, with the full-back managing to direct a low effort into the back of the net through a ruck of bodies.
Ironically, this was when the team in Claret & Blue started to look more like the side that had been unbeaten in four before the encounter.
Diangana was able to get on the end of Domingos Quina cross to beat Josh Barnes with a neat volley, this came just the keeper was able to deny Martin Samuelsen from close-range.
Before that, The Hammers had struck the bar twice as Ethan Wassall headed against his own woodwork and Antonio Martinez was unlucky not to score with a long-range hit.
But, ultimately, we were unable to pull anymore back, and The Rams saw the tie out for a comfortable win, one that they wouldn’t have even dreamt of on the journey to The London Stadium.
Westley will need to rally his troops quickly and inject confidence back into them, as a Premier League international Cup tie with Benfica in Billericay lays in waiting on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, next up for County will be another Friday night Premier League Two meeting as they welcome fellow Midlander’s Leicester City to Pride Park in a local Derby.