By Callum Hibberd
Danny Chapman will have certainly been pleased, as he got to cast his eye on plenty of potential signings, and saw some already recruited ones put in a strong shift against an energetic and spirited side.
Centre-back Oliver Gnandi gave The Hawks the lead with a powerful header just 17 minutes in.
But his effort was cancelled out by Chris Veliky just seven minutes later, the forward tapping it home from close range with a true poacher’s goal.
There were a host of chances throughout the game, but a number of impressive saves from both West Ham goalkeepers meant the game finished one goal apiece.
Early on, a mix up between Oliver Gnandi and Josh Bexon saw Gnandi rush and kick the ball out for a throw near the corner flag. West Ham’s Gael Kaliba worked the ball into the box and got a shot off, winning a corner off of Yannick Kissi, a player fans are grateful to see for another season. Although the corner came to nothing, The Hawks were warned that they’d have to be seriously switched on to avoid being caught out by a young and slick team full of skill.
The game had started in impressive nature, an entertaining battle between extremely gifted youths and more experienced, stronger adults. But standing out on the more senior side was De’Jaune Taylor. The winger’s pace was providing some trouble for opposing right-back Will Greenidge, and a simple foul from the defender in the 17th minute gave Harlow a free kick from about 40 yards out, near the sideline. Taylor was the one who took it, and he executed a brilliant delivery into the box. Towering centre back Gnandi rose above his marker, and headed it precisely into the bottom left corner to give his team the lead.
The young Hammers responded quickly though, Jamal Baptiste sending an excellent through ball to Sebastian Nebyla, who cut into the box with a slick step-over, leaving Steven Wade behind in the process. Nebyla looked to cut back to an eager Chris Veliky, but Miles Mitchell-Nelson was on hand with an excellent block to prevent a goal-scoring chance.
From a corner, West Ham almost had their response in the 24th minute. A precise cross from former Ajax prospect Anouar El Mhassani found Iyiola Adebayo, and the centre-backs header rattled off the post. Gnandi cleared, but Harlow gave away a foul from just outside the box. El Mhassani stepped up, and his knuckle-ball effort deflected off of the wall. Floating behind, Baptiste showed good instincts to chase the seemingly crowd-bound ball. The young midfielder reached it in time, and tapped it back to Veliky, who couldn’t miss from point blank range.
Danny Chapman’s team looked extremely comfortable with the ball on the floor, and after a composed passage of play on the by-line between Wade and Terrell Egbri, the latter put in an inviting cross. Forward Matt Rush was unable to get a good connection on it from nine yards, but the play suggested that pre-season training has been forward-thinking and positive thus far.
With half-time approaching, both teams seemed to grow wiser in their attacking play. A corner taken by Serge Erkaslen found Egbri, who headed it forward, seemingly without an aim, but eventually finding Samson Doherty. The midfielder had smartly peeled off from his marker, but this off-the-training-ground method wasn’t completely successful, West Ham ‘keeper Serine Sanneh smothering the ball before Doherty could get a shot off.
Sam Evans entered the field in place of Amar Lewis in the 42nd minute, but barring a shot that went wide from West Ham’s Veron Parks, the rest of the first-half passed without incident. A strong opening half from the new look Hawks side.
HALF-TIME: Harlow Town 1 - 1 West Ham United XI
The first chance of the second half was for El Mhassani, who from an awkward left-sided angle, blasted wide on the turn, from just inside the box.
After a strong tackle in his own half, Evans marauded forward, eventually laying off the ball to Egbri. The pint-size yet electric winger launched in a powerful cross from just outside the box, and it missed Rush and Doherty, before eventually falling to Taylor on the other side of the box. His shot was with the outside of his laces, ferocious and bound for goal, but blocked by substitute Michael Adu on the line.
Harlow came again just on the hour mark, Egbri yet again launching in a cross. This one was higher, and Rush just fell short, leaving El Mhassani to clean up for a corner. Once again, The Hawks seemed more potent at set pieces, Taylor’s precise delivery unfortunately lacking an accurate header from Doherty to match.
Just after, the new West Ham Under 18s manager Kevin Keen made a host of changes, swapping Jamal Baptiste, Freddie Potts and Veron Parks for Josh Okotcha, Benacio Boaiety and Kai Corbett.
The 67th minute saw half-time substitute Josh Roach display outstanding goalkeeping on three consecutive occasions. Firstly, he stood strong in pushing Rush out wide, when the Hawks striker had a glorious one-on-one chance. Then, after a precise cut back, Doherty’s blast at goal was well parried to the right by the young and diving keeper. Following up, from even closer range, was Mitchell-Nelson, but Roach made a superb point-blank save, making himself big and blocking the centre-backs effort out for a corner. Lukasź Fabianski should be very aware.
With the game reaching a climax point, Egbri continued to show his pace, both physically and mentally. A quick free kick found Rush in in the box, giving him possession and options. He opted to lay it back to Doherty, who by this point, would’ve been bemused as to how he had not scored; Roach getting down excellently again to parry his shot wide.
Half-chances were traded, both teams extremely energetic despite the gamr being in it’s late stages. But the biggest chance, and arguably Roach’s biggest save, came in the 87th minute. A floated corner from Lopez was met with force by Christian Adu Gyamfi, and the crowd were already celebrating his header, but Roach was incredibly acrobatic yet again, a fingertip save to his bottom left keeping his team in the game.
With no extra time added, the whistle blew a few minutes later, bringing an end to to a pre-season clash that was significantly more exciting than your usual.
FULL-TIME: Harlow Town 1 - 1 West Ham XI
So for the second year in a row, The Hawks and Hammers played out an exciting clash in which the shares were spoiled. Harlow’s preparations for the 2019/20 season continue away at Brightlingsea this Saturday. Kick off is at 3PM.