Wolves missed out on a place in the quarter-finals of the Under-17 Premier League Cup by a point having had to settle for a goalless draw at Aston Villa on Wednesday afternoon.
Having won and drawn their opening games of Group B against West Bromwich Albion and Derby County respectively, and with Villa having taken six points from their games against the same opposition, Steve Davis’ side knew they would have to win the game if they were to move above their opponents and finish top of the group.
Despite being the better side on the afternoon at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath Training Ground, their campaign came to an end, but it could have all been different had Tyler Roberts had gone for goal instead of looking for a penalty in the first-half.
The striker had intercepted a loose back pass from the Villa defence, and facing the keeper one-on-one, Roberts tried to draw the stopper into a foul – which he didn’t get – instead of taking the ball around him and slotting the ball into an open net.
Wolves, who gave a full debut to under-16 midfielder Ackeme Francis-Burrell, would have felt aggrieved to have not won the game in the second period, when substitute Erik Bugarin expertly finished past the Villa keeper having been played through by a perfectly-weighted pass by Lee Harkin.
However, play was brought back when the assistant referee had flagged for offside against the Spanish striker, although Davis insisted that Bugarin had timed his run well and replays indicated that the decision was incorrect.
Despite the draw meaning their time in the competition was over, Davis was still left pleased with the performance of his players against a Villa team who are riding high in U18 Premier League South.
On missing out on a knockout spot
“I thought it was good performance,” Davis said. “I thought we controlled the game, particularly in the second-half, but I always thought it was going to be a tough game because we knew we had to take the game to them because a draw was enough for them to get through to the next round.
“In the first-half, we were a bit passive with our pressing and although it was a local derby, it wasn’t played that way. There wasn’t many tackles flying in and it was almost like a training game at times.
“At half-time, I wated more intensity and more tempo in our play, and to be fair to the lads, they delivered that in the second-half. We were slightly better than them, created some good opportunities, and ‘Tinks’ [Roberts] had a chance in the first-half, which he should have scored.
“We had opportunities, and we were just wasteful with them really. The fact that we couldn’t score, meant that we lacked that cutting edge in the final third to get that vital goal. We had a goal ruled out for offside which wasn’t. We watched it back, but the linesman unfortunately got it wrong.
“We were unlucky because we haven’t lost a game in the competition this season, drawing two and winning one, but that wasn’t enough to win the group and we miss out on the best runner-up spot by a point.”
On a first clean sheet of 2021
“We were very solid at the back and the back three were excellent. Aaron did really well on the left and probably had his best game for a while and Harry did some really good things going forward.
“Palmi did well in goal, he didn’t have a massive amount to do, but what he did, he did very well. He commanded his area well, was very dominant and was excellent as well.
“The structure at the back always has to be something you can build on as a team, and if that foundation is really strong, then you can give the attackers and the midfield players the confidence to go forward, and we did that.
“We’ve been doing it very well, but it’s still something we’re improving on since the first game back after Christmas and with each game we’re looking stronger and more solid in defence, and getting back to where we were at the start of the season.”
On a full debut for Francis-Burrell
“We played Ackeme for the first time, who hasn’t been offered a scholarship yet, so it gave me a really good chance to have a look at him.
“He did ok and probably better than we all thought he would. He was solid, without really expressing himself. There’s more there than what he showed, but he’s got to really open himself out a bit more, play with freedom and add a bit of risk to his game. He played a very safe game and didn’t do a lot wrong, did some good things, but there were still things he could’ve done a bit better and quicker.
“The tempo and the pace of this football was a lot quicker than he would’ve experienced with the under-16s, but he’s a really good athlete, he’ll work chase and harass players. He has all those qualities, and he also wants to learn, he wants to improve, but he has to brush up on his technical and tactical work, getting to know the position and what’s required.
“He’s trying to earn a scholarship and he wouldn’t have done himself any harm in his first game.”
The under-18s have a run of three games in the next nine days, firstly taking on Derby County in the U18 Premier League North on Saturday, followed by the visit of Manchester City next Wednesday (24th February) at AFC Telford United’s New Bucks Head.
On a busy schedule of matches
“Most of the team that played on Wednesday is our team, so there aren’t many others who can come back in and play on Saturday. We have six or seven injuries at the moment and I don’t envisage any of them coming back for the weekend, so it will be more or less the same team again, barring one or two.
“We might have to take a couple out who may struggle to play three games in a week, like Ty [Barnett] and some of the younger ones. But we’re looking forward to the game, and with City to come next week, we’ve got another tough week ahead of us, but this is what we want.
“We don’t want the weeks to be easy and we want each week to be tough which tests our players mentally and physically, as that is what’s going to prepare them for professional football. That’s my job and the staff’s job, to make sure the programme is physical and hard.
“Midweek games are great because players have to prepare themselves quickly from game to game, but first, we’re looking forwards to Derby on Saturday.”
20/02 Derby County (A)
24/02 Manchester City (H)
27/02 Leeds United (A)
06/03 Newcastle United (H)
20/03 Liverpool (A)
Wolves: Arinbjornsson, Birtwistle, Kandola, Tipton, Hubner, Keto-Diyawa, Francis-Burrell, Hodnett, Harkin, Barnett, Roberts.
Subs: O'Shaughnessy, Mabete, Farmer, Rees, Bugarin.