James Collins was impressed by the temperament on display by his players during the week in what were two difficult games for an under-23 side which consisted of seven players from the Academy.
With regular under-23 stars either with Nuno Espirito Santo’s first-team or sent out on loan moves late on in the transfer window, Collins was forced to dip his hand into the under-18s to make up his squad for last week’s fixtures against Southampton in the Premier League 2, and a local derby with Birmingham City in the Premier League Cup.
Despite the very young age of his squad – which had six 17-year-olds in the starting line-up and one on the bench – the under-23 head coach was pleased with how the players stepped up to the challenges they were faced.
On a tough week of fixtures
“It was a long week, with a few boys being away with the first-team and a couple went out on loan late in the window, so we knew we had a squad of younger players to pick from for the two matches.
“Having two games within a space of a few days, including a long trip down to Southampton and then a game against Birmingham – a local derby – in a cup match, was going to be a tough week for them.
“I thought we played terrific down in Southampton and didn’t get what we deserved. We needed to be better in the final third, but our shape and our performance without the ball was excellent.
“Then against Birmingham we probably weren’t quite as on it, and we looked a little bit leggy, even when it was 11-v-11, and when we went down to ten men at 2-1 down, you fear for a young team, but I thought they dug in really well, Dadashov got a fantastic goal on the counter-attack, and for the last 15 minutes we defended with real spirit to get an important point.
“It was a real learning curve for them, to find a way to get a point in key moments of the game, so I was impressed.”
On blooding the under-18s
“What they’ve shown is a great temperament, they’re a great credit to the work that is being done with them within the Academy, with Steve [Davis] and Darren [Ryan] in the youth team, because they’ve come in knowing exactly what they are doing.
“What’s really impressed me is the temperament that they’ve shown with two tough games in a week, and then they’ve got a really important FA Youth Cup game coming up on Monday, which they will should have had their eye on, but they haven’t. They’ve come in and really knuckled down, trained properly, and played properly, so I’ve been really impressed with them.
“Joe [Young] has had two really good performances, and I know he was disappointed with the goal he conceded at Southampton, but he was excellent before then. Pascal [Estrada] has shown a real determination, composure on the ball and a real aggression, and Jack [Scott] at wing-back has given it everything – getting forward and defending – in what is a tough position for a young player but has shown good quality at times.
“Even Nigel [Lonwijk], who I hadn’t seen in a game before, came on against Birmingham, under pressure, with ten minutes to go, and he looked very good; really composed and he had a real cool head, which he needed in those moments, so there are plenty of positives from the young players.”
On Chem Campbell’s sending off
“These things are only worthwhile if you learn from them. Chem’s a young player who was playing against his old club, and he got a booking which was a touch unfortunate in the first-half for a dive, because he felt the challenge was coming and he went down.
“The referee gave a booking, which is fine, but you’ve got to learn that when you’re on a booking you don’t get sent off – especially don’t get sent off for something petulant or silly, and I think to get sent off for a deliberate handball in the area where it was, was very silly.
“But he’s only a young player and no-one was more disappointed than him in the dressing room at the end. I said to him that this will only be worthwhile if he learns from it and it never happens again. If he gets himself into that situation again when he’s been booked, he has to slightly change the way he plays, slightly change the way he thinks, because it’s important to stay on the pitch as it could have costed the team the game.
“Fortunately, we got away with it as a team because we got a point out of the game, but he’s got to learn from it and hopefully he will do.”
On turning draws into wins
“We’ve got to show a bit of extra quality in the final third. We’re showing plenty of endeavour, but when we get to the final third, we’re looking to see them show that bit of class and quality to pick somebody out with the right weight of pass in the right area, and who’s really wanting to get on the end of things and running in behind.
“At the moment, we’re relying a lot on Renat [Dadashov], who is doing a magnificent job for us, but he’s on his own up there, so we need to show a bit more quality in the final third.
“We’ve also got to make sure that when we’re on top in games we take advantage of that, because in both games this week, we were in control of for large portions before we’ve been done by a sucker punch on the counter-attack.
“It’s hard to stop the opponents from having any chances – Southampton had one shot at goal and Birmingham had three, so in two games you could consider us unfortunate, but all the goals have been very similar in that they’ve come from counter-attacks, so we’ve got to stop them and make sure we’re solid when we’re attacking.”
On giving experience to young players
“Without wanting to make excuses, we’ve got a lot of young players out on that pitch, both teams we’ve played have been full of older players – Birmingham had some young but two or three really experienced boys, Southampton were all slightly older than our boys, so it’s a challenge for seven youth team players to play under-23 football.
“One or two is ok, but putting seven in at the same time is difficult, and that shows how well they’re doing, shows the club have done well to get the players out on loan who need that challenge, and it’s now the case that they’ve got to produce in the final third when they get there.”