Davis reflects on the under-18s' campaign

Steve Davis believes his young players have benefited from being exposed to professional football at an early age, as part of the progressive Wolves Academy system.

This season the under-18s have regularly called upon players from the younger age groups, creating a youthful group for Davis, who has also seen the likes of Owen Hesketh make the move in the opposition direction to the under-23s. The under-18s head coach regularly insists their aim is to improve the players and ready them for the challenges that lie ahead, so in that respect, the 2020/21 season a success.

On the season overall

“Generally, I’m really pleased. Obviously, pre-season was difficult, we were at Lilleshall, staying residential for a couple of weeks and training. It was good to get the group together, we had some of the schoolboys involved very early in the programme to make up the numbers and I thought we started the season really well.

“It was a good pre-season, really hard, really demanding and we had a really good first half to the season, with that group. We comfortably held our own in the league, we beat Liverpool, pushed United close, and had some really good results.

“After Christmas we found it difficult because Owen Hesketh went up and we lost a lot of players, but it gave the schoolboys an opportunity. The team was made up of at least five under-16s every week and that became difficult in terms of results, but great opportunities for them to integrate into the group and get game time.

“Playing regularly in the under-18s for a 15-year-old is a massive jump, but we remained competitive until the final day, when we did fantastic for half the game, but second-half you could see the fatigue of the season took its toll in the end and it was tough for them.”

On improving players

“What we’re trying to do is progress and prepare the players for first-team football. It’s about changing attitudes, changing behaviours, working on strengths and weaknesses, and making them become a complete player.

“In that first half we lost Owen Hesketh, he went up to the under-23s and deservedly so, and we got a lot of injuries, a lot of isolations, and that was disruptive to the players, and a lot of them broke down with various injuries. Some were in games, but generally there were a lot of injuries and illnesses, and obviously Covid played its part.

“But they’ve come through well, it’s set them up for their scholarships, they’ve had a year of under-18s football, they know what it’s about, know the intensity. We’ve been able to work on various parts of their game and improve them. We’ve seen some good improvements, before they become a scholar, so it’s instrumental to what we do in terms of bringing them into the programme early if they’re ready.

“We even had a 14-year-old on the bench for the last game, which is unheard of really. Some games we only had 12, 13 players available, so it was very tough, but lots of positives.”

On Hesketh leading the way

“Owen’s done fantastically well for the 23s, I’m delighted for him, he’s probably been one of the best players in the games I’ve seen, he’s gone up and done very well, and there are three or four others who are on the fringes of that, going into the group, they’re ready for the challenge.”

On the clear pathway at Wolves

“The opportunities probably came around due to injuries to key players in the first-team. There is a small group of players who train regularly with the first-team squad and that’s brought them on, it’s a brilliant opportunity, and a great insight at a young age to see where they’ve got to get.

“A lot of them have been on the bench and around it, great experiences. In some respects, deservedly, and maybe in some respects due to the injuries the first-team have had, and the squad not being a big one, but nevertheless the ones who’ve gone up have deserved to be there.”

On pre-season plans

“We’ve got about three plans I think. We’re looking at various things for pre-season, depending on what the first-team do – that impacts on the 23s because the players may go with them. Then that impacts on us because they might take some of our players to supplement their squad.

“Decisions for pre-season have a big impact on what goes on below, but we’ve got plans for various situations, so we’ll wait for decisions to be made. We’re not going to go abroad, we don’t think that’s the right thing to do, but we’ll try and get away in this country.

“It’s nice to get the players away and play different teams, which adds a bit of spice to the programme and gives the lads a different challenge, rather than playing the same teams. It’s good to play against different styles and expose them to that.”