James Collins believes there are improvements to be made all over the pitch for his under-23 side after they fell to a 3-1 defeat on their travels to Stoke City.
Having ended 2020 in positive form, the development squad are searching for their first win of the new year, following a draw against Burnley in their previous match. But with a weekend without a game and the transfer window closed, which will give Collins a more settled squad for the remainder of the season, the team has time to prepare for getting back to winning ways.
On defeat to Stoke
“I have mixed thoughts really. I thought we started the game well, got the early goal and I felt the tactics and game plan was working really well.
“We allowed their midfield to have the ball and we defended our ten against their seven and it was working, they were giving the ball to us a lot, then I thought we loosened off a little bit.
“We allowed them two soft goals and then when you go 2-1 down against a team who play with the style they do, it becomes more difficult as they sit in and are hard to break down. That’s when it got tough for us.”
On the need for improvements
“I always thought we’d get some chances, but I didn’t think we were good enough going forward. We should’ve done better and our movement wasn’t good enough up front.
“At one point we had four lined up at the front and they were very flat. That’s something we will need to work on, getting better short and long movements out of them, but we had enough chances to get back into the game.
“At 2-1 Austin had a good chance and pulled it past the post, and if you get it back to 2-2, you’re on the front foot and you’re more likely to go on and win the game. But I’ve said to the boys that we can’t expect to concede three goals and win games of football.
“It’s all about building from a base because if you keep a clean sheet or only concede one goal, you’ve got a chance. We conceded three and probably could’ve conceded one or two more, and that’s because we didn’t have a good enough base to build from.”
On navigating a difficult January
“It’s not been easy, but this is Covid times and everyone is in that boat, but under-23s football is like this; it’s January, it’s loan month, players could be coming or going.
“We thought we might have Meritan [Shabani] today but a loan opportunity popped up for him, so you don’t end up with him and although you’ve done the work with him, someone else has to come in. But everyone’s in that boat and the boys have got to be adaptable, and they’ve shown they can be.
“The gameplan was going well for a period of time, the first 20 to 25 minutes, and if we’d have stopped the game there, I reckon their coach would’ve been frustrated and we were 1-0 up and going well, but a soft goal, they get back in it and it’s a different game.”
On Hesketh’s second goal in three
“I thought Owen took his goal really well. That’s what he’s good at; getting forward from midfield and the high positions.
“He’s got to become better in the types of games that get tough because he can disappear at times in games, but that comes with experience because he’s one of the youngest in the group and probably the youngest on the pitch today, so that will come with learning.
“He’s got to become better without the ball, but his little touches and some of his bits of play are excellent, and to get the goals from midfield that we’re missing when TP’s [Taylor Perry] not playing is a big bonus.”
On the second half of the season
“They’re all good games. It’s almost like two seasons when you’re with the under-23s because teams are always different before Christmas than they are after Christmas. We’re the same, but it does give other players opportunities.
“Some of the younger players are coming back and coming through, we’ve got Chem [Campbell] back from injury, so it was nice to see him back on the pitch.
“It was a tough game for him to come back into, but he’s back now, so it’ll be good to see who pushes on in the second half of the season.”