Young guns fail to impress Hammers boss

WEST HAM is known as the Academy of Football and has three proud FA Youth Cup victories and a host of full internationals to show for their distinction in promoting youth excellence.

But, in the week that the Hammers under-18s set off on another FA Youth Cup run with a 5-0 drubbing of Aldershot, it is apparent that the senior team boss may not be as keen on bringing through the youngsters.

The manager may profess that the Academy is a vital part of his long-term plan, but on Saturday, as West Ham crashed to a disappointing defeat against Manchester City, there were only two players under 23 included in the starting line-up.

In reality, James Tomkins and Junior Stanislas proved to be two of the more impressive performances in a disappointing performance, while Zavon Hines’ appearance as a substitute added a little impetus too.

When you look at the statistics from this season, the under-23s have not had much of a look in. Tomkins (9) has had most games, but Stanislas (5), Winston Reid (4), Marek Stech (3) and Hines (three substitute appearances) are the only ones to have had first team experience this term – just 15 starts between them.

Hines though is simply happy to be back part of the team after nearly a year on the sidelines with a knee injury.

“It’s good to be back and obviously I just want to play,” said the striker, not 22 until December 27, who came off the bench with the score already at 2-0 to Manchester City on Saturday.

Most Read

“At the moment, I’m not getting much game time, just coming off the bench, but every minute is a bonus for me, considering I’ve been out for 11 months.”

Hines made a huge impact when he broke into the team under Gianfranco Zola last season, the highlight being his last-minute winner against Aston Villa at Upton Park.

And Hines, who has made six starts in claret and blue, scoring three goals, feels that he is ready to make a return to the starting line-up.

“In training I feel sharp,” he insisted. “I actually feel very good, but it’s up to the manager to make that decision and I’m waiting for that call.”

It seems likely that Hines will receive that call from his manager sooner rather than later. The youngster seems to have usurped expensive flop Benni McCarthy from the bench and now he may well be tempted to play him on the right side of a three-pronged attack.

Stanislas, despite only turning 21 last month, is the more experienced of the two players. He has played 42 games on the left wing for the Hammers, grabbing six goals and if we learned anything from Saturday’s game, it is that he doesn’t mind a shot.

He tested England goalkeeper Joe Hart with a stinging drive in the first half and he felt that if things had worked out differently, he might have notched a goal.

“On another day he might have let it in,” said Stanislas. “But he’s a top keeper so you have to do better to beat him.”

The winger has had his injuries this season just like Hines, but it is Grant’s preference for the likes of Luis Boa Morte, Kieron Dyer and even Victor Obinna in his position that has left Stanislas on the sidelines for longest.

When you are battling against relegation it is important to strike the right balance between experience and youth. The more senior players have been through it all before and many are playing under pressure and with a little fear.

Sometimes the youngsters can be overawed, but, on the other hand, many can play without fear and that could be a real boost for the Hammers over next month or so.

Stanislas certainly believes that they can grab some much-needed points. “Today we looked forward to the match and we always think we can get something from the game, even if it’s a draw or we play well and get confidence from that,” said the winger.

“I think the next four or five games we can get points from. The belief is still there. When you start losing your belief, you start losing your way,” said Stanislas with an ear for a soundbite.

“Little ricochets and decisions that go against you, that’s part of football. You just have to do what you do and affect the game that way.”

Hines has similar sentiments about West Ham’s chances for the rest of the campaign.

“I think we can turn things round,” said the striker. “It’s a matter of getting the right results and performing on the day. We’re not having much luck at the moment, but we need to just keep focused and continue doing what we’ve got to do.

“Games like Blackburn are the ones we need to win, but we have get three points whenever we can.”

Perhaps enthusiasm is what West Ham need. Remember the stars that have come through the ranks in the past and gone on to brilliant careers. Will the next generation be denied their chance to shine?

Perhaps it is time for the likes of Stanislas, Hines, Winston Reid and Frank Nouble to be given their chance.

After all, many of the senior players have failed so far.