Academy Manager Kevin Thelwell is hoping the Molineux fans can help roar Wolves’ young cubs to victory in tonight’s tough FA Youth Cup tie with visitors Charlton (7pm).
As seems to have become the norm in recent seasons, Wolves have landed another tricky opener in the prestigious competition against a highly-rated Addicks outfit with a firm pedigree for producing top, young players.
But Thelwell is confident the Under-18 squad coached by Mick Halsall and Sean Parrish will be ready to give a good account of themselves as they grace the hallowed Molineux turf tonight.
“Charlton are a very good side,” says Thelwell.
“Historically they have always been very good at producing young players and giving them the opportunity to progress into their first team.
“This year is no different.
“They have got a very strong group and the coaching staff down there speak very highly of them.
“We seem to get a tough first game every year and I think this is another one.
“But it will be another great experience for the lads who are absolutely raring to go.
“They are looking forward to playing at Molineux with a new stand as well and trying to show people what they are all about.”
Thelwell admits a run in the competition – Wolves’ best in recent years was the semi finals in 2005 – is a nice bonus, but he is looking predominantly at how the young players embrace the occasion and admits performance is probably more important than result.
“If I’m being honest, from my perspective the most important thing on these nights is that they perform well,” he added.
“It sounds daft when you are entering a cup competition but the result is partly irrespective as a by-product of the performance.
“It is such a pressurised circumstance for the lads and a lot is made of this one game.
“We look at their performances across the whole season and across their whole scholarship programme but this is a different experience for them to build on.
“A win would be lovely, and a run would be lovely, but what is important for me is that they go out and give a good account of themselves and show they are capable of playing in the Wolves way.”
Having landed Category One status in the summer, the Academy have been playing in a highly competitive division for the first half of the season, and finished in mid-table ahead of the restructuring now set to take place.
Thelwell admits they could have finished higher, but has offered a reminder that the main motivation is to produce players capable of making it through to the first team rather than concentrating purely on winning youth leagues.
“The season so far for the Under-18s has been up and down,” he explains.
“If we were looking at a mid-term review we’d be saying we’ve done o-k but could have done better in a few games to be in a much stronger position league-wise.
“It’s a steep learning curve having moved up a level and we are coming up against strong opposition week-in week-out now and it’s another benchmark for them to try and reach for.
“Of course we would love to be flying high and sitting in position one or position two but we can’t lose sight of what the problem is all about which is producing individuals that are going to go on and play for our first team.
“In the last three or four years we are capable of producing players that can go and do that.
“It’s always difficult because everybody wants to see these players come through straightaway and enough is never enough.
“We are no different – we want as many players as we can in and around the first team as often as we can.
“But youth football is a long-term development project and it’s about taking little steps towards the first team.
“At the moment we’re seeing David Davis, Anthony Forde and Danny Batth who are regularly involved in the first team squad and have got four or five boys out on loan getting valuable experience.
“We are hoping they return from there as better players and then hopefully Ståle can review and evaluate where they are.
“In terms of the Under-21 group it is there for all to see as they have had a fantastic first half to the season again up against tough opposition.
“I think the future looks very bright going forwards.”
As mentioned, Thelwell and the staff and players would love to play in front of a decent crowd tonight, and the Molineux faithful have turned up in good numbers to support the youngsters in recent seasons.
“The more people we can get to the game the better,” he says.
“I know the lads are really excited about playing in front of a home crowd and the more Wolves fans that are there then the better that will be.
“It gives fans an opportunity to see the boys that we have been talking about and they have been hearing about so the more backing the better especially against such tough opposition.”
*Kick off tonight is 7pm at Molineux. Admission is via Block 8 of the Billy Wright Stand (Lower Tier) priced at £4 for adults and £1 concessions.