Academy manager on U23s’ Premier League Cup winThe average age of our Under-23 squad which beat Stoke City 1-0 in the Premier League Cup last Friday was merely 18 years and 129 days – none of the 16-man squad have yet left their teenage years.
The result ensured a perfect start after two games for the Royals in the group stage – on course to qualify for the knock-out stages. And Academy Manager Lee Herron was particularly pleased that some of the younger players, who have been around the fringes of the Under-23 team, came in and did so well.
“Obviously it’s great to win the game 1-0 – we felt that we weren’t ruthless enough in front of goal in the first half, where we could have put the game to bed with the chances we had,” said Herron after the match. “So in terms of the result, we’re more than happy to come away with a win, which we felt was deserved.
“It is a great opportunity for us to play our younger players of this development squad – and it is a squad rather than a team, because it rotates. You need to be able to give game-time to players that are sitting under that group that play a little bit more regularly.
“It was also a chance to play some of the younger players from the Under-18s that have been doing very well. So all in all, it’s great. If you’re doing youth development properly, you want to stretch the players and put them out of their comfort zones, and into challenges like the one they faced against Stoke.
“We did that against a Premier League academy side on Friday and won the game. And more importantly, the performance levels of the players was very good. That stretching is vital to help them to progress to where we want them to be, and where they want to be.”
Danny Loader and Jordan Holsgrove – aged 16 and 17 respectively – both started their first Under-23 games, and first-year pro Sam Smith netted the winner on his maiden start of the campaign. Akinwale Odimayo also came on for his defensive bow at that age group, before helping the U18s to a win against Leicester the next day.
“You’ll hear me speak a lot about experiences, and I believe that we need to make sure that our players have a full box of experiences both on and off the pitch,” Herron continued.
“So for some of them to get minutes and get debuts at Under-23 level… they did really well. We’re pleased with their performance and they should be proud of how they played.
“You want to win football at whatever level you play at – you don’t have to hide behind that. What we’re trying to do is get these players as close to the first team as possible; to do that, they need to be exposed to nights like Friday and see how they do.
“Sometimes they will fail and make mistakes, but we allow that here. In this environment for our young players, those things can happen – because that will make them better.”