Wolves Academy are heading into the new season full of confidence after winning a highly competitive six-team tournament in the Netherlands.
The Wolves Under-18s took part in the Noordwijk Cup on the Dutch coast last weekend, aimed largely at young players but also involving one open-age team from the hosts.
Wolves won four, drew one and lost one of their six round robin games, two consecutive victoriesat the end seeing them qualify as one of the best two sides for the final.
And, barely 24 hours after the first team had made Capital One Cup progress via penalties against Aldershot, the Academy followed suit with a 5-4 spot kick success over Osaka of Japan, having come back from 3-1 down with two minutes remaining to draw 3-3 in normal time.
“It was a terrific win for the lads,” said Academy manager Kevin Thelwell.
“It was a tournament we haven’t entered before and also included some older teams which was great.
“It was always going to be good experience but to then go and win it was terrific.
“They played against lots of different teams with different problems to solve and also had to play in different positions which gives them more experience.
“It all helps when the boys come back and go into the next year of the scholarship period.
“The reason we always try and go away pre-season is that it is also a team-bonding exercise as well as building their knowledge of how they want to play the game.
“The experience of being successful in a tournament when they have all had to work together to gain something makes them that bit stronger going forwards.
“It also makes them more resilient because sometimes they have been comfortable in the games and in others it has been much more difficult.
“It gives them lots of skills to take into the season but we also hope to see they can carry it on.
“They are on a crest of a wave and if they can keep that momentum going forward it will stand them in good stead.”
Coaches Mick Halsall and Sean Parrish led the team, who kicked off their programme with a 1-1 draw with the MLS Under-20 ‘A’ team from America, Ibrahim Keita on target.
Jacob Gibson then got the goal in a 1-0 victory against the MLS ‘B’ side before Keita, Dan Murray and David Moli all found the net in a 3-0 victory against Belgian outfit Harelbeke.
A 3-0 defeat against the open-age SJC side rounded off Saturday’s programme and left Wolves with it all to do on the Sunday to make the final.
But make it they did, Moli and Keita ensuring a 2-1 win over Den Haag from Holland and then a Keita brace sealing victory by the same scoreline against the talented Osaka side.
It was Osaka who then lay in wait in the final, and despite Robbie Parry’s penalty Wolves found themselves with that two-goal deficit to overturn late on, Keita and a last-gasp equaliser from Luke Ifil taking the destination of the trophy to penalties.
Murray, Keita, captain Gary O’Neill, Ifil and Moli all converted from the spot, and so the one crucial save from Jonathan Flatt ensured the trophy would return with the squad to England.
Thelwell is hoping the success from the weekend will be carried into a tough Academy league campaign, with Category One status ensuring Wolves are battling with the cream of the crop at youth level.
First up on the list is Liverpool on Saturday.
“It has been a successful pre-season for us with no major injuries and a programme of friendlies which has helped us to build on our knowledge of how we want to play both with and without the ball,” Thelwell added.
“We’ve also managed to pick up some good wins against Birmingham City, Oxford and other teams and then this tournament success ahead of starting what is going to be a very tough programme at Liverpool on Saturday.
“Fingers crossed the boys can take this success into the games programme and its onwards and upwards.
“Winning trophies isn’t perhaps as important at Academy level as it’s about building up knowledge and experience but of course it is part of their development and education.
“At some stage you have to learn to win because that is the key part of competitive football.
“All of these experiences hopefully combine to make them the players we want them to be to try and make it into first team football.”