James Collins has expressed pride in his Wolves under-23s players as their season came to an end on Monday evening at the final hurdle in a play-off semi-final defeat to Crystal Palace.
A slow start to the match allowed the Eagles to take a two-goal lead, but Collins was delighted with how the side fought back through a pair of stunning Theo Corbeanu strikes, before coming up short in extra-time.
Despite the Premier League 2 Division 2 season ending in heart-breaking defeat, the head coach admitted he ‘loved’ his first full season in charge of the side and looks forwards in attempting to go one better next time out.
On a poor first 45 minutes
“It’s been great lessons for them all; lessons for me and for us. We started really slowly and got what we deserved in the fact that they went ahead.
“I knew the set-pieces would be crucial because they’re big, powerful boys, and I don’t think we dealt with them very well in the first-half.
“At half-time, I was disappointed with them because I don’t think we played particularly well and we could’ve been on the end of a beating.”
On fighting back in the second period
“Second-half, we changed shape, I thought we handled set-pieces much better, got right on top in the game, scored two terrific goals from Theo, but at that point when you really want to push on, we ran out of steam a little bit. A lot were getting cramp and struggling physically.
“I thought extra-time was going to be one of them where it gets played out for penalties, but their fresh legs produced a little bit of play, they got the lead, and then we had a real go at the end and had a couple of chances.”
On showing spirit to get back in the match
“The average age of the other teams are higher than ours, so on a night like tonight, going up against a physical side, it shows. They were still struggling as well, but I felt we struggled a little bit more physically than they did.
“But from a footballing perspective, I thought we played some good stuff. It was hard to break down their deep block, but I thought at times we did, and I loved the spirit they showed to get back into the game.
“Because away from home, with a crowd, 2-0 down at half-time, a young team – you can fold, and I’ve seen teams fold, but I was delighted with the spirit they showed and I thought we deserved a bit more out of the game.”
On an eventful ending to the 2020/21 campaign
“I went through the whole range of emotions throughout the game, but what I am is very proud of the players for how they’ve handled a difficult season, a Covid-hit season.
“They’ve been in different dressing rooms at different times, moving from the first-team to us, and some of them down at the 18s at times, and I think they’ve handled it really well, with great maturity.
“Even at the end, I thought they handled a defeat well, even though it wasn’t a good feeling, but they’ve given it everything.”
You'll be back stronger 👊 pic.twitter.com/QlwhrHH2hF— Wolves Academy (@WolvesAcademy) May 17, 2021
On looking ahead to next season
“I’ve loved this season. It’s been great. My first full season here, with a group of player who are talented, have ability, who want to train hard, who want to work hard, who want to learn, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ups and downs of it.
“To finish fourth with a young group of players was a good achievement for them, and although we fell short in the play-offs here, there’s no shame in that, with how they performed.
“They’re a terrific bunch of lads who will go on to have good careers, whether that’s with the first-team at Wolves or whether that’s at value for the club by getting them sold and having good careers elsewhere.
“I’m delighted with the boys and look forward to moving on to the new season.”