U23 manager on reaching the cup final for second timeThe tenth (and last) game of a mammoth Premier League Cup campaign for the Royals will take place at the Liberty Stadium, as the Royals contest the final with Swansea City – time and date still TBC.
And Under-23s manager Martin Kuhl has been pleased that his crop of players have had more opportunities to play competitive games this season and improve their prospects of making the breakthrough into senior football.
The U23s had just a single Premier League Cup game last season, but this year’s prolonged tournament – as well as involvement in the Premier League International Cup and Checkatrade Trophy – has been a welcome addition.
“The development for the players is games,” said Kuhl. “Having a group stage before the knock-outs has been great this season. There have been more games for the Under-23s this year, so that has been productive.
“We’ve played a mixture of teams from different levels between Categories 1, 2 and 3. It has been a competition and we’ve had different games – some have been battles. The more games the better.
“And now we’re in the final again for the second time in four seasons, and it’s our third semi-final. For a club of our size it is fantastic – it is great for our Academy.
“At the end of the day, we want to give these lads the experience of a final to take them into the first team. That’s the biggest thing, that’s the end product.
“The gaffer has come in and raised the bar on a technical and tactical level. They have to be good enough to break the door down and get into the team.
“If we can help them do that, that’s great – we back the gaffer and what he’s trying to do. And if we can get some silverware on the way, that’s fantastic.
“It’ll be a difficult game – Swansea have been very good this year. But if you’re there, you’ve got a chance.”
Passage to the final was far from simple… a 4-1 scoreline in the semi did a bit of a disservice to a Canaries side which threatened throughout.
But the Royals showed their mettle and got the right result in the end…
“The lads had to dig in against Norwich – credit to them, because they came and played very well and made it very hard for us. Their shape was good and they were good on the ball, and after we scored our third, we were saying ‘how the hell are we 3-0 up?!’
“It was like a boxing match – we stayed together when we were under pressure, got off the canvas and gave it a go. We rode our luck a bit to begin, but we did alright after that.
“We were disappointed with the standard with which we passed the ball in the first half, because of the standard we’ve set ourselves in training and in other games. But when we had periods when we controlled the tempo of the game, we did better and played through them well.
“The goals were good – there were certain things we asked them to do, which they did… and we scored from them. And when they scored their goal, I think we responded well to that challenge.”