Derby County’s Under-23s picked up their first victory of the 2021/22 season in Premier League 2 - Division 1 on Monday evening with a 3-1 victory over West Ham United.
All the goals came in a thrilling second half at Loughborough University Stadium.
Defender Max Bardell opened the scoring just after the hour mark with a header from a set piece, while striker Jack Stretton hit a quickfire second to put Pat Lyons’ side in control.
Sonny Perkins pulled a goal with seven minutes remaining to make the Rams sweat, but Stretton lashed home a deflected effort from distance with the clock ticking down to confirm all three points.
Derby’s display, particularly in the second half as they created several good opportunities in the attacking third, merited all three points.
The Rams’ starting line-up saw first-team quintet Ryan Allsop, Kornell McDonald, Jordan Brown, Dylan Williams and Stretton get run-outs to maintain match sharpness.
Academy graduates McDonald, Brown, Williams and Stretton remain eligible for the Under-23s, from an age perspective, but have been in and around manager Wayne Rooney’s squad this term owing to the small squad the Rams’ boss is operating with.
Summer signing Allsop, meanwhile, has been acting as second choice to goalkeeper Kelle Roos and was given a run-out to get another 90 minutes under his belt should be required at any stage in the weeks ahead.
Derby had the best opportunity of the opening exchanges as Stretton latched on to Liam Thompson’s smart ball in behind the Hammers backline, but he saw his looping effort hit the top of the crossbar and bounce behind for a goal-kick.
Another chance came Stretton’s way after the 30-minute mark. He was unable to squeeze his low shot past the onrushing Krisztian Hegyi, however, who made himself big before claiming the ball at the second attempt.
West Ham’s first noteworthy opportunity came after 40 minutes and it was one that failed to test Allsop in the Derby goal. Daniel Chester’s cross from the right-hand side of the box found Kamarai Swyer unmarked at the far post and, despite getting his head to the ball, he was unable to direct his effort on target.
By contrast to the opening 45 minutes, the start to the second half was breathless and played at a much higher tempo by both teams.
The visitors thought they’d broken the deadlock moments into the second half as Keenan Forson stretched to connect with a right-wing cross from just a few yards out, but he could only direct his effort onto the post and behind for a goal kick.
At the other end Stretton turned a left-wing delivery from skipper Eiran Cashin wide a minute later, while midfielder Connor Dixon blasted over from the edge of the box as Derby upped the ante.
Allsop’s first save of the evening came on 53 minutes as West Ham pushed for the opener. The Rams’ stop-stopper reacted well to push Bernardo Rosa’s stinging right-foot drive from 20 yards behind a corner - and he also made another save before the hour, this time from Armstrong Okoflex, at his near post as the end-to-end encounter continued to provide chances at both ends.
A goal was on the cards sooner rather than later and it was Derby who duly made the breakthrough after 66 minutes. A free-kick from the left-hand side by Williams into a packed penalty area was expertly headed home by Bardell, who rose highest to glance the ball into the far corner for his first goal of the season.
Just like the first-team in their victory over Stoke City on Saturday at Pride Park Stadium, the Under-23s backed up the opening goal with a second just a few minutes later. Bartosz Cybulski and substitute Luke Plange combined well to send Stretton clear on goal and he made no mistake with a cool finish past Hegyi.
The visitors did make Derby sweat in the latter stages as substitute Perkins pulled a goal back out of the blue with just under ten minutes left. His powerful shot on the turn in the penalty area found its way under Allsop and crept over the line.
That set up a grandstand finish and, with the Hammers pushing hard for an equaliser, Derby caught them on the break with two minutes left. Stretton received the ball from Cybulski in acers of space some 25 yards out from goal and his long-range effort, with the aid of a deflection, found the back of the net to confirm a well-deserved home win.
The Under-23s are back in Premier League 2 - Division 1 action next Monday night when they travel south to face Tottenham Hotspur at Stevenage FC’s Lamex Stadium (7pm kick-off) and they will make the journey in good spirits after picking up their first points of the campaign in impressive fashion.
Derby County Under-23s: Allsop (GK), McDonald, Williams, Bardell, Brown, Cashin (C), L Thompson, Dixon, Cybulski, Aghatise (Plange 59), Stretton.
Substitutes Not Used: Solomon, Foulkes (GK), Clarke, Ebiowei.
West Ham United Under-23s: Hegyi (GK), Ashby, Longelo, Baptiste (Diallo 76), Laing (Rosa 16), Alese (C), Chesters, Ekwah, Swyer (Perkins 72), Forson, Okoflex.
Substitutes Not Used: Kinnear (GK), Dju.