U18s boss reflects on successful year
Finishing fifth in the country this year – behind only superpowers Man City, Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal – is a tremendous reflection on our Under-18s.
But that doesn’t begin to tell the full story of the progress that has been made, according to Under-18 manager David Dodds.
The squad that he named to play the final fixture of our campaign against Chelsea consisted largely of players in the first half of their two-year U18 scholarship, as well as Shamar Moore and Jack Nolan from our Under-16s in the starting XI.
That was in no small part because so many others have already made an early transition to the Under-23 group… that included appearances at that level for Tom Holmes and Danny Loader at the age of 16!
11 different players from our U18 group featured competitively for our Under-23s in 2016/17 – making a combined total of 87 appearances at that level – while bright prospects as young as Under-15s stepped up to our U18s at times. All brilliant learning experience for those involved.
And Loader was unavailable for the final weeks due to his involvement for England at the Under-17 European Championships, as the Young Lions were unfortunate to miss out in the final at the hands of Spain on penalties.
“It was fantastic that so many of the boys who were able to get us into that situation [qualifying for the Merit Group] were able to progress up to the Under-23s,” said Under-18 manager David Dodds.
“You’d much prefer that than for them to finish second or third in the Under-18s league, which no-one will ever remember. The fact that they have pushed on to the Under-23s gets them out of their comfort zone again.
“It’s great that they have played against those teams – what we’ve found is that if you make a mistake, or that there’s a situation that you allow them to have, they’ll make the most of it – they’ll usually do some damage.
“It’s taught us to be more ruthless, and I think that’s something we’ve really learned and something the boys really believe in – that will put them in good stead for the future. When they play games next season, they’ll be aware that against the better teams they have got to be absolutely 100%.
“At the other end they have to be very clever and creative to break the other team down – and they have been. They’re up against astute defenders who understand the game well, and they’re quick and agile. You really have to do something special in your combination play or individually to get in on their goal.
“All in all, the lads have benefitted brilliantly from going up to the Under-23s. And I’ve never had so many first-year scholars who have already had some experience with our Under-18s… some have played the whole season!”