Wolves under-18s got their competitive pre-season fixtures underway in impressive fashion as Steve Davis’ young team finished the Manchester United U18 summer tournament as runners-up.
In a four-team competition where Wolves took on some of the best under-18 sides in the country in United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, the team in gold and black raced to the top of the league standings, winning all three of their group matches – which were split into two halves of 25 minutes – without conceding a goal.
The under-18s then faced second-placed Chelsea in the final, but the Londoners got the better of a thrilling topsy-turvy contest to take the spoils on penalties after the game finished 3-3.
Not only was Davis delighted by the performances his young team displayed during the weekend, but more importantly, it gave the players chance to get competitive minutes into their legs after a disrupted start to their pre-season preparation.
On four competitive pre-season fixtures
“I was really pleased with how it went because it was a really good tournament. I thought it was excellent in terms of the organisation from United and in terms of the opposition; three really good teams. It was just what we needed because it had been pretty much our first competitive set of games in pre-season.
“We enjoyed the format. It was physically challenging for us and we had to carefully plan everyone’s minutes because we were worried if we pushed them too hard, they would break down.
“We had a physical plan before we went, and we stuck rigidly to that. Players were going on and coming off quite frequently and we had targets at the end of the tournament which we wanted players to hit.
“Those were our objectives and we reached those, but the players definitely had different objectives; they wanted to play well, they wanted to perform well, and they wanted to play for their place in the team for the start of the season.
“On Sunday, we analysed the whole tournament from when we got there to when we finished, we looked at what the games were about, some of the situations in the game, the opposition, and how we played. But it was really good and we all enjoyed the four days.”
On testing his young Wolves squad
“We took a squad of 21 players with us, and some of those were only schoolboys of 14. We took most of the first-year scholars and a few of the second years, but one or two were injured and couldn’t travel.
“Harry [Birtwistle] is coming back from injury and currently training with the under-23s to get his fitness up, Temple [Ojinnaka] is injured at the moment, as is Palmi [Arinbjornnson], so those three would normally have come with us, but they stayed behind.
“But the whole squad were excellent. I felt they started quite nervously, but I think that’s because it was Chelsea first game, but they grew into the game and grew into the tournament after beating Chelsea 1-0.
“We played excellent against Spurs to win 2-0, and that was probably our best performance, and then we beat United. We dominated that game, but they were quite a young team as they lost a few players up to their 23s before the tournament, so were weakened by that.
“But we were also very similar in terms of ages as we played a lot of our younger kids, the 14-year-olds, in that one, so it was great experiences for them.”
On going head-to-head with Chelsea in the final
“We won the league format by wining every game and we didn’t concede, but there was a penalty shootout after every game. It was brought up in the pre-tournament meeting and I thought it was a good idea to try. When lads are a bit leggy and tired, they’ve got to concentrate with the pressure of taking a penalty afterwards to get an extra point.
“We only won one of the penalty shootouts out of four, so we know where we need to get better – and that’s taking penalties.
“In the final, I felt the energy levels had dropped, but it was a really good game. We came back from 2-0 down to go to 2-2, they went 3-2 ahead straight from the kick-off, and then we equalised again just before full-time, but we lost on penalties, unfortunately.
“We were putting ourselves against some of the best under-18 teams in the country, so from that perspective, I’m really pleased with where we are at this stage.”
On facing two games in four days
“From a performance perspective and the physical outcomes, we achieved everything we wanted last week, and it was an excellent tournament from the lads, but what we need to do now is get some more game time, because they haven’t had 75 minutes straight yet, let alone 90.
“We are a little bit behind in terms of preparing them for games, so we need to get more minutes into them over this week with the two games we’ve got against Sheffield United on Tuesday and Hull on Friday.
“Most any of them would’ve played last week was 60 or 70 minutes but split over two games. Now it’s about getting continuous game time.”
On heading to York with the under-23s
“We are one phase. We see both the under-18s and the under-23s as the professional development phase. We’ve worked all pre-season in the same bubble together, and players have been moving up and some have been moving down to try and supplement with the training groups and also being available for the games, as and when they’ve played.
“But the under-23s have also got some players still out with the first-team, which is good for those lads, and some are also having to isolate, so we’ll also be supplementing their games this week with a few of our players, because neither me nor James [Collins] want to see our games called off.
“Speaking to a lot of the clubs last week, they’ve also had games cancelled, teams have pulled out, they’ve lost players to their under-23s, or players have had to isolate – so we’re all pretty much in the same position.
“I don’t think any of the teams would’ve sailed through pre-season without any set-backs, but we’ve just got to get on with it and do the best you can, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Manchester United U18 Summer Tournament results:
Round one - Thursday afternoon
Wolves 1-0 Chelsea (p)
Man United 2-1 Spurs (p)
Round two - Friday morning
Man United 2-2 Chelsea (p)
Spurs (p) 0-2 Wolves
Round three - Friday afternoon
Man United 0-1 Wolves (p)
Spurs (p) 0-1 Chelsea
Final - Saturday morning
Wolves 3-3 Chelsea (p)