Dave Wilkes with reaction to the Preston North End game
Academy Coach Dave Wilkes spoke to us about the first game of the season away at Preston where the lads battled through incredibly hot conditions to earn a clean sheet and a valuable point.
“It was a good game and you could see that both sides were keen to get off to a good start with it being the season opener,” he said. “We didn't see any goals but it was a very close contest. I think games against Preston always seem to have an edge, whatever level it’s at.
“Both sides went for it and they both could have won it. There were some decent chances and it was really hard fought from start to finish. It was very pleasing to get a clean sheet because that shows how hard the lads worked on what was an unbelievably hot day.”
“I think we saw the benefit of the work we’d done through pre-season with how the lads coped with the conditions,” he continued. “We played some very strong teams through the summer and we conceded quite a few goals, but the lads learned a lot from it. It gave us areas to work on and it was good to see they’d taken it on board, with the end result being that they defended really well last Saturday.
“They should take a lot of belief away from the performance they gave us. They’ve played against a decent team and they’ve enjoyed some good periods of possession. Morgan Bacon did well in goal and the back four got through a lot of work. Max Brown and Cameron Salkeld went close at the other end and Luke Lloyd almost nicked it for us when he came on as sub. Overall they can all come away feeling very pleased.”
Speaking about the integration of the first years into the Academy environment, he said: “We always have to bear in mind that full time football is a culture shock for the younger lads. They’ve gone from being an U16 to all of a sudden doing it every day, and the demands of U18 football are very high.
“It does hit them hard initially and it needs the second years, who are used to it, to help them out every now and then. When you get that you see them really come together as a team. We ask a lot of them from the moment they sign for us and it can be difficult for them.
“They need to very quickly adjust to the fact they have more training sessions added to the educational work and jobs they have to do. The physical demands are what a lot of them find hardest to deal with but we’re already seeing them start to get to grips with it.”
And on the pressure on the second years to perform as they head into their final season as a scholar, he said: “I don’t think it really hits them until later on in the season. They tend to go from week to week at this stage just getting on with what they need to do.
“They’re all different characters and I’m sure we’ll see that some of them will start to worry about it along the way. They realise that they’re under pressure to perform if they want to succeed and we’ve told them a number of times that it comes down to what they do day to day.
“Their focus has to be on being at their best in the next training session and for the next game. That’s what will get them through.
“Very recently some of them got the chance to play with the first team in their friendly games and that was a great experience and fantastic exposure for those lads. We often have first and second years involved in training with the first team and that’s another opportunity for them to show the management staff who they are. It’s important that every young player is ready because they can be called on at any time by the manager.”
And with the focus on development at every level within the Academy, he said: “I’m like any coach in that I want to win every game. It’s as simple as that.
“We go out as a group to try to win but we do also focus on the fact we need to develop players win, lose or draw. We’re here to teach them about their trade so losing a game isn’t the end of the world.
“It’s about how they perform individually and within the team during the 90 minutes. Mind you, there isn’t a coach anywhere who doesn’t want his team win and we’re no different.
“There’s no rest for the lads now because they have league and cup games coming up. The fixtures come thick and fast but I know they’ll enjoy it. This is what it’s all about when it comes down to it.”
United – Morgan, Olsen, Hutchinson (Goldthorpe 60), Watson, Taylor, Groves, Egan (Lloyd 80), Breen, Brown, Salkeld, Cowburn (Kelly 80). Subs – Lee.
Next up - United v Fleetwood, Creighton Rugby Club, Saturday 13 August, kick off 11am
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