Terry Westley’s bright young U23’s put in a fantastic display at The County Ground to defeat Sky Bet League Two side Swindon Town 2-3 in the opening game in Group C of the 2017/2018 Checkatrade Trophy.
The starlets were boosted by the inclusion of club debutant Sead Haksabanovic to the starting Xl, who was signed for £3 million from Halmstads BK last week. However, they were still without captain Declan Rice who is on first-team duty but welcomed the return of star-man Nathan Holland.
The Hammers’ goals came from Martin Samuelson, who’s push for a place in the first-team continues, stand in skipper Moses Makasi and the evergreen Dan Kemp with a late winner. The win already emulates our win percentage in the whole of last year’s tournament, where our only victory came on penalties over Northampton Town.
Last season’s competition also saw Premier League clubs and selected Championship sides entering U23 outfits into the newly rebranded Checkatrade Trophy.
The decision was made to increase the appeal and excitement of the Football League but angered the fans of many League One & Two clubs. In retaliation, there were many boycotts of Checkatrade Trophy matches last term, but there were no such goings on at The Country Ground last night.
The hosts, who had been relegated from League One last season, had a sluggish start to the tie and would be behind after just six minutes. Fantastic determination from Spanish forward Antonio Martinez saw Martin Samuelsen played in, with the Norwegian international slotting home.
Just moments later, it could have been more for Westley’s men, as the Montenegro international Haksabanovic struck the bar with a powerful effort from the range. However, it was soon the turn of the hosts to strike the woodwork through full-back Chris Hussey, but our youngsters would take their slim advantage into the break.
The Robins would come out firing on all cylinders in the second period and soon found their leveller through Luke Norris from the penalty spot. Pre-season first-team star Moses Makasi had been harshly pulled up for a handball for the awarding of the penalty, that was calmly finished by Norris.
Despite the hosts’ fightback, the resilient youngsters would soon be back ahead with Makasi redeeming himself by finishing past Will Henry in the Swindon net. Although the starlets were in a commanding position for the victory, David Flitcroft’s men struck back again through super-sub Paul Mullin for 2-2. However, there was to be one last twist in the tale.
A late Hammers’ attack saw the ball fall to Martinez who raced through and struck the post, only for Dan Kemp to convert the follow up for the winner. Centre-back Vashon Neufville was later dismissed in the closing stages, but the red card had little effect on the outcome of the tie, as we clinched an impressive victory in The West Country.
The triumph ascends our bright starlets to the summit of the Southern Group C, and roots The Robins to the bottom. Next up for Terry Westley’s men is a trip to face Spurs in The PL2 Division One on Monday, but for now, they will bask in the glory of a thrilling victory at The County Ground.
Man of the Match: Martin Samuelsen