Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson scored as we beat West Ham United to win the Premier League 2 at London Stadium on Friday evening.
Although the build-up to the match had been dominated by news of Arsène Wenger’s summer departure, our young stars produced a focused and professional performance - and it seemed fitting that two of the boss’ most recent debutants made the difference.
We started strongly and it didn’t take long for us to carve out our first opportunity. Nketiah brought down Joe Olowu’s long clearance and raced clear of two defenders, but Nathan Trott held on to his left-footed drive.
Nelson almost profited on the counter-attack moments later when he was released on the right-hand side, but the 18-year-old was unlucky to see his low strike clip the outside of the post.
But West Ham’s resilience would eventually wear off. After another fast attacking move, Nelson collected the ball on the left-hand side of the box and created a yard of space with some neat footwork before firing hard into the bottom corner.
And we didn’t have to wait much longer for our second - just six minutes in fact. Tolaji Bola broke down our left flank with pace and power, and crossed for Nketiah to slam home at the near post.
There could have been another goal before half-time, too. Nketiah smashed Nelson’s cutback off the crossbar before Vlad Dragomir volleyed his rebound off the post, while Virginia reacted superbly to keep out Marcus Browne at the other end.
We picked up where we left off in the second half and Joe Willock was unlucky not to add his name to the scoresheet moments after the restart. Last weekend’s Premier League debutant glided past two defenders only to see his effort saved by Trott.
Nelson then moved through the gears. Receiving the ball with his back to goal 25 yards out, the 18-year-old shrugged off his man, beat another and sprinted into the channel to find Josh Dasilva in the box, whose shot was well chased down.
But when Nelson made his next surge into the Hammers’ box, we made no mistake from the finish. Once more our young forward breezed past his man before squaring for Eddie Nketiah to fire home. It was the icing on the cake after a dominant first-half performance and, although Domingos Quina netted a late consolation, it was more than enough to ensure we would be rightfully crowned champions.
WHAT IT MEANS
It’s the first time we’ve ever won the Premier League 2 since it was rebranded in 2012 - and we did so in style too, scoring more goals than any other side in the division.
We only tasted defeat on six occasions and won 13 of our 22 league games, including the final four matches of the season.
Steve Gatting’s side now have the opportunity to win the double this season, as they prepare for their Premier League International Cup final against Porto on May 8.
Our youngsters have already seen off Reading, Bayern Munich, Dinamo Zagreb and Villarreal to reach this stage, and will be hoping to repeat December’s 1-0 win over the Portuguese side at Emirates Stadium.
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