James Collins admits his Wolves under-23 side are aiming for a play-off birth with just four matches remaining in their Premier League 2 Division 2 campaign.
Although developing the club’s young players remains his priority, the head coach said he would be ‘naïve’ not to challenge his players to make it into the post-season competition and target a place in Division 1, especially after producing one of their most complete performances of the season on Monday afternoon as they overcame Newcastle United 4-0 at Aggborough.
Austin Samuels’ brace, Theo Corbeanu’s header and Owen Hesketh’s clever lob saw Collins’ side move back into the top five in the table after a much-changed 11 fell to a disappointing display against Aston Villa last week.
On beating Newcastle
“It’s always nice to win by four. I don’t often get in a situation where at 10 minutes to go you can relax on the sidelines.
“I thought it was really pleasing to keep a clean sheet after the Villa game, where we were disappointed with our defending.
“I felt we attacked well against Villa, but defended really poorly, so it was good to get back to a clean sheet. But some of our football today and the chances we created were good and we took our chances, which was key.”
On bouncing back from heavy Villa defeat
“I don’t think I needed to really. They were disappointed last week because they felt they deserved more out of the game, but also, what we did do was show them that we could’ve conceded more than four against Villa. It was one of those games.
“But what we did say to them is that we need to tighten up, we need to do better with our defending.
“One of our strengths is that we haven’t conceded many goals this season, and before the Villa game, we were one of the lowest in the league, and we wanted to get back to that because we know we can create chances at the other end.”
On attacking through the centre
“At times when we played a back three this year, we often get space out wide for the switches, and the long diagonals, but we felt today, the advantages were through the lines.
“It’s different week by week, but I thought the boys picked up on what we’ve been working on this week really well.
“I thought Owen and Luke [Cundle] were finding little pockets of space and Austin held back before making runs in behind which stretched them. Sadou [Diallo] and Hong [Wan] and the lads at the back were finding those passes through the middle, so I felt that was a way we’d get through today and it worked well.”
On Samuels’ brace
“They’re the goals you have to get as a forward and he loves getting goals. He works so hard on his finishing, they boys are doing it every day after training, almost too hard at times.
“When he misses one, he practices more and practices more because that’s the only way he knows. Sometimes I think that can almost get in his head a little bit, but he’s had a really good week working at it, so I’m delighted for him to get those goals, because I felt he’s really deserved it.
“The first one is always important in these games, so for him to get the first one in the way he did, I thought was excellent. Then he got a poachers-like goal for the second, which I think if you get five or six of them each season, it will be great for his tally.
“He wanted to get his hat-trick, but I was looking at the subs and there are certain positions we haven’t got a lot of cover for, and centre-forward is one of them.
“Conor [Carty] is injured at the moment, and hopefully he’s coming back, so I felt he was one who we might have got a late injury to and we didn’t want him missing a few games, so that’s what I was saying to him.”
On pushing for the play-offs
“We haven’t had many games this year because of Covid, we haven’t had cup competitions, so the extension of a season with semi-finals and finals is a real plus; a chance to get two extra games at the end of the season.
“Whatever competition you’re in, you want to win, and you want to do well in. For me, development comes first, but when you get to four games to go and you’re in with a chance of it, you obviously want that challenge because when you go off to league football, it’s about winning, so we’d be naïve not to make that a priority at this stage of the season.
“Having said that, number one for me is always about producing good players and development, but if we can get that balance right, we’re onto something.”