Davis | On players embracing the challenge despite United defeat

Steve Davis has expressed his satisfaction in his young Wolves under-18s group as they approach the end of an U18 Premier League North season which has seen the squad ravaged by injury and illness.

The head coach has been left with just 13 players to choose from during the last few weeks, including in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to league leaders Manchester United, where Wolves still produced a positive performance and looked to have swung momentum in their side after Chem Campbell struck from the penalty spot just after half-time, but defensive mistakes allowed a clinical Red Devils side to prosper late on.

But in spite of the results not always going their way in recent months, Davis believes his players can still take pride from their performances this season, especially the 15 and 16-year-olds who have made the step up to his team and faced a difficult challenge head on.

On competing against the league leaders

“They were slightly older and slightly more experienced, but they’ve got good young players as well coming on. They’re Man United, so they’re always going to have a good level of talent within their groups, and they do attract the better talent from around the country. Once again, it was a great game for us to measure ourselves against the best and see where we are.

“I thought there were spells in the game where we did really well, we kept possession quite well, stood up strongly to them, we were quite inventive and hit the woodwork three times.

“Going three down in the first-half was always going to be tough to come back from, because defensively we allowed the goals to happen far too easily. If there’s an area we need to improve, it’s defending the box, defending the goal and our one-v-ones. I felt we made some poor decisions and didn’t really defend as a unit very well.

“But apart from that, a lot of our other aspects were really good, the organisation, they tried to do what we’d planned to do, but even their manager said afterwards that he felt the result flattered them as it was a very good game of football.”

On facing a side who were clinical in attack

“They’ve got a lot of quality where it matters, and that’s around the box in front of goal. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much possession you have, you need to put the ball in the back of the net.

“Last week, they lost to Newcastle when they had double the amount of chances but got counter-attacked three times and lost the game 3-2. Then this week, they had fewer chances, but scored five of them. I felt they were very clinical in front of goal and some of the solo goals they scored were excellent.

“But that’s football. We’ve got to learn from that and be better defensively and harder to beat in those critical moments of the game.”

Injury ravaged Wolves fall to defeat | Manchester United 5-1 Wolves | U18 Highlights

On making more of the defining moments

“We got the penalty to get back to 3-1, the momentum was with us, the play was really good, we were looking like we were going to get back to 3-2, and then, a minute later, we gave a silly free-kick away, they break and score.

“Those defining moments are really important, because instead of being 3-2 with a good chance of getting something from the game, it’s 4-1 and becomes a struggle.

“But these are the things we need to learn and learn them quickly. Especially when you’re playing against the better teams in the league, with the better players who can turn matches on their head so quickly.”

On missing half of his squad through injury

“We’ve really found it hard in the last few months with players picking up long-term injuries which have put them out for the rest of the season.

“But what this time has done, has given the schoolboys more of a chance, which they probably wouldn’t have had if not for about a dozen players being unavailable.

“They’ve now had half a season of experience and got a lot of minutes in the league, which they wouldn’t have got if the first-years would have been fit.

“Although it’s been a difficult time for half of the group, the other half have been able to get something out of it for their own development, and we’ll hopefully benefit from that next season.”

On challenging players at a younger age

“You look at the likes of Christian Marques, who have had that exposure from a younger age, and they’ve really benefited from it further down the line in a couple of years’ time.

“They’ve been able to push up to the under-23s and they’re already ready; physically and mentally, because they’re already had that challenge with us.

“It has helped the programme because our group is becoming an under-17s/under-16s group, competing against under-18s. We’re hoping that when they reach under-18, they’re good enough to go up early into the under-23s and be challenged – but they’ve got to be ready for that.

“If we try to push players up early and before they’re ready, that will have a knock-on effect and can damage the confidence of the player. That’s up to the skill of the coach and the skill of the people around the club to get that timing right.

“Hopefully we’ll get that timing right and they’ll excel. Take Owen Hesketh for example. He went up to the under-23s midway through this season, and he’s been performing really well and has been one of the 23s’ best players since he moved up.”

On schoolboys reaping the rewards when they join full-time

“Hopefully it will have done them good to now have a clearer insight into what the professional phase is going to be like for them, as it’s so different from the youth development phase.

“We’re looking at the transition now, because the lads that are coming in are getting a bit younger. It’s not the case that we’ll get players for the under-18s at 16 or 17, they’re coming into us at 15, a year or two early, because they need challenging, and fair play to them, some of them are ready physically and ability-wise to be pushed and to be challenged.

“But I’ve been pleased with the lads in the under-18s this season and where they are in their development, because they’ve done better than I thought we might have done, they’ve worked hard and they’ve got used to the programme.

“Hopefully in pre-season, we can hit the ground running because we’re not having to give them this introduction that we’ve been giving them already this season. If, and it’s a big if, they can continue to develop and improve as they have been, it bodes well for us for next season.”