James Collins and his under-23 squad are getting excited ahead of the first game of the new 2021/22 Premier League 2 season, which gets underway on Monday evening at home to Middlesbrough.
Having finished their pre-season preparations with a 2-2 draw against Hull City in York, where Collins’ players were taking part in a training camp alongside the under-18s, all attention now turns to the competitive fixtures, but the head coach acknowledges the difficulties which comes with many of his players still being part of first-team training and not having spent time with them ahead of the opening game of the season.
On ending pre-season in York
“We had a good week in York although we had a couple of Covid incidents before we went, which is the nature of under-23 football at the moment.
“We took a young group with us and had a couple of games, one against Sheffield United and one against Hull. We drew both games and both games we probably should have won, but we had a young team out in those matches.
“We missed a penalty against Hull, and we probably didn’t take the chances which came our way in the Sheffield United game, but what is pleasing is that I felt the boys are really picking up the work we’re trying to do and they’re really willing to learn.
“They’re a good bunch and we had a really enjoyable week working with them.”
On working with the under-18 players
“This is the real joy of being short of players is that young players get an opportunity to prove themselves at a level they haven’t been at yet, and that gives them a lift and an enthusiasm.
“I’ve been really impressed with their willingness to learn and there’s obviously been a lot of good work going on lower down in the Academy because they’ve all come up with a real thirst for picking up knowledge and information.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the young lads. It’s been a good part of the job.”
On the season starting this weekend
“Everyone’s excited for the first game of the season. But as usual with under-23s at most clubs, it will be a bit of a broken week, because a lot of the players are still working with the first-team. The work they’re doing down there and the time they are spending with the first-team is great for them and great for us for when they do return, so either way it’s a win-win.
“It’s terrific that they’re getting time with them and I assume they will return to us at some point before next Monday, and when they return, we’ll do some work towards the game.
“It does make it difficult to prepare for the first game, but that’s the same at all clubs because first-teams use their 23s players during pre-season – we won’t be the only team in that position.
“But once we get settled and see what we’ve got to work with for the first half of the season, everyone will be excited for that first game.”
On facing Middlesbrough on the opening day
“I don’t think you can judge an under-23 team on what they did the previous season. What you can take is that Middlesbrough have a good reputation in producing players who get in their first-team.
“You know you’re always up against a team who can get the best out of the players from their area and produce some quality players, so they’re always going to be a test.
“When they played us at Kidderminster last season, I thought they were one of the best teams we’d played, exciting on the counter-attack with a front three who were really good to watch.
“Then away from home, I thought we deserved more out of the game than what we got. I thought we deserved to win the game.
“Who knows what kind of team they’re going to have this year, but what we do know with Middlesbrough is that they’ll always play good football and it will be a tough start.”