Davis surprised by under-18s' performances

Steve Davis is hoping his under-18 players will have learned from their experiences with the under-23s in recent weeks as they prepare to face reigning U18 champions Manchester City this Saturday.

Following a 5-2 defeat to Blackburn Rovers a fortnight ago, several of Davis’ squad then made the step up to James Collins’ development side for their Pap John’s Trophy penalty shootout victory over Wigan Athletic and a Premier League Cup win against West Ham United, and with Man City the visitors to Compton Park this weekend, the head coach believes the experiences will stand his players in good stead.

On bouncing back from Blackburn loss

“When we looked back at the game, we had some really good spells. We started well but conceded via mistakes, we didn’t do the basics of defending well enough and they were clinical. They only had a few shots in the first-half and seemed to score from all of them.

“It knocked us back a little bit, but I thought, we responded really well, getting back to 2-1. Nath [Fraser] did really well to half the deficit, and towards the end of the first-half, we had a 20 minute spell of really high pressure. But then they went straight down the other end and scored with a penalty.

“We started the second-half well, got back to 3-2 – deservedly so – but then the two centre-halves got a bit mixed up and we conceded, then they scored a late one as we tried to get another goal.

“Overall, we were pleased with large aspects of how we played and created chances – we created about 15 or 16 chances and shots, a lot more than they did – but you can’t make mistakes against a team who are very clinical – they scored five from their seven shots, to be fair to them – but we made the errors which put us on the back foot when we were in control.

“We’ll learn from this game. We were pleased with large spells, but you can’t make basic errors in defence because you’re ultimately going to lose the game, so we’re disappointed from that aspect.”

On keeping tight at the back

“We’re still working on being a back four and running different spaces, but we went back to a back five against Blackburn and because we hadn’t worked on that for a while, it didn’t look right.

“We’ve just got to keep working at playing a back five and a back four, and just keep reminding them and keep doing it so it becomes second nature for them to switch between each system.

“But quite a few players have played for the 23s over the last week or so and have gained that experience and have done really well defensively.

“The errors they made against Blackburn weren’t evident in the 23s games, so when they’re switched on and they’re concentrating, they’re very capable of keeping clean sheets and doing very well, but that application has to be consistent week in week out, whichever group they’re with.”

On experiences with the under-23s

“It’s been great. I think it’s surprised us. It’s certainly surprised some of the 23s staff, and it certainly surprised me. I’ve watched both games and the performance levels were excellent against two really good teams with experienced players, certainly against Wigan – against league players who are keeping fit and waiting for their chance to impress the manager.

“That was never going to be an easy game, and then against West Ham, who are a top Premier League 2 side, they’ve got some very good players as well, so the way they’ve conducted themselves and were able to put that sort of performance was a surprise, but it was great to know they can go up and cope with that level and they can play at that level.

“When they make sure they’re prepared and focused, it shows the type of level they can produce, so I’m delighted for those lads who played. It’s great experience for them and hopefully they’ll get more of this experience and if James does need them, they can go up and do a job for him.”

On coming together in pre-season

“There’s been a lot of overlapping between the under-23s and the 18s this season, and it has allowed the lads who had not had a chance previously to step up, to do really well.

“It’s held them in good stead because they know what they need to do, they know what they’re level is, they know how they need to play, how they need to concentrate and what level of performance is needed each week.

“They’ve managed to produce two or three performances which have been really consistent, so they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it, but the challenge for them now is to prove they can do it for large portions of the season.

“It’s been good to see, so I do think mixing them around the 23s and 18s during pre-season and the players going up and down between the groups did give them the opportunity to feel part of both groups and not be alien to them if they did move up, when suddenly they’re with a group of players they don’t know.

“They all know each other and can play together which they did during that pre-season period when we were away together.”

On facing the reigning U18 PL North champions

“We always get a test when we play Man City. We always know they’ve got good players. They have a way of playing, they find a way of finding solutions on the pitch, and if you try and stop one thing then they will try and expose you somewhere else.

“They have great ability to do that and obviously work very hard on finding different ways to overcome what they’re faced with – almost like putting out fires; you get that one out, another one starts. But that’s the way you have to fight against them.

“Looking back on the games last season, they were very physical with us, we had a couple of players taken off with injuries. They showed that they’re very good technically and tactically, but that they are also very physical and if they need to be, they can mix it.

“We have to be ready for a tough game, but I think we’re capable of competing and can cause them problems. We can get in behind, we’ve got pace, and if we get the team out that we want to get out – depending on the 23s needing player on Friday – then we can certainly give them a good game and do one better than we’ve done previously.

“We’re looking forward to the game because these are the games you want to play, like the tournament we played in pre-season, you want to play the best teams in your age group and Man City are definitely one of the best, so we’re looking forward to that challenge.”