The latest update from Academy Manager Darren EdmondsonYouth boss Darren Edmondson spoke to us about what has been a period of learning and development for his young players.
“The FA Youth Cup has been the shining light over the last couple of months,” he said. “As much as we keep saying we’re learning after league games, the penny has to start dropping. The learning has to happen week in, week out, and the consistency has got to be there, especially for second years.
“We can be our own worst enemy at times. We watch the games back and analyse them, but people have to stop making basic errors to help their own progression. There’s an element of frustration amongst the staff because the consistency isn’t there, but there are reasons for that.
“We’ve hardly had a settled team all season. It seems to change every week because something happens. It’s been very difficult over the last two months for them. The start of the season probably showed where the squad is and at the moment it isn’t a true reflection.”
“I’ve got to be critical of them all each time and try and push them to be better, but at the same time it is a difficult period for them,” he commented. “The injuries we’ve picked up have all seemed to be long ones and they keep getting setbacks, so that’s been difficult. The only positive to take is that the U16s have played a lot of football and we’re getting to see a lot of them which is good for recruitment next season. The first years are also getting more game time than they probably would have expected with the majority of injuries coming to the second years.
“However, we’ve missed the physicality of the second years. Shrewsbury and Walsall in the last two games we’ve been beaten in have been the two strongest teams we’ve played all season, physically as well as ability wise. Over the course of 90 minutes when we’re ending up with five or six U16s on the pitch the physical side of the game really does shine through.”
“I genuinely thought at the start of the season if everyone had stayed fit we would have had a good year,” he said. “We didn’t win a pre-season game but the work we were trying to implement was there to see for the first six games. Injuries have killed the season a little bit, but the development of individuals is what it’s about. Nobody is downbeat about the results so to speak, but the consistency has got to start coming through.
“Some of the second years who are playing regularly need to show more consistency now because this is the time of year where Keith and his staff will start knocking on my door and asking questions. Even if results don’t go our way, their performances have got to be the best out there. They’ll be monitoring them closely, so the FA Cup games have been a plus because the second years have stepped up in those games. One or two put some good performances in against Chesterfield which the management staff were there to see which did them no harm.
“Consistency over a period of games is ultimately what will get you a pro contract. In the first team squad you can’t have people who can perform one week and not for the next three, it doesn’t work like that if you want to be successful. The first team have set a very, very high benchmark this year and, like I keep saying, we have to do all we can to make sure our standards are high. Keith has taken quite a few of our boys in training over the last few months, he’ll be slowly building a view on most of them, but there’s still a long way to go for them.”
Speaking about the FA Cup run, he said: “I don’t think the FA Cup becomes a distraction because they’ve obviously raised their levels, which can be a bit frustrating. The Chesterfield game possibly took more out of the lads than we thought for the Shrewsbury game on the Saturday. We lost a couple of second years again last week which meant we were massively depleted against Walsall.
“I was speaking to John Ward at the weekend who is in charge of Walsall’s U23s and they had a full complement of ten second years in their starting team. That’s part of the reason we didn’t get a result, but the work ethic is always there and that’s all you can really ask for.
“The FA Cup has been a good distraction if anything because it’s given them a chance to play on some decent football pitches, and see what it’s like once you get into first teams and squads. At the same time, I think it’s proven to some that they are very good when they’re fully fit. Hopefully before we get to the next game in December we’ll have three or four second years back and we can give a good account of ourselves at Barnsley.”
On helping the lads through a difficult spell, he said: “I’ve always enjoyed the mental side of the game, even from managing in non-league. There’s always a mental aspect to football and sport in general. You use your own learning curves and see how other players react to things then try and build a foundation to try and help them with the mental side of the game.
“I think our lads have found it tough. You see it at pro level, if you get stuck in a run of results it’s hard to turn it round. You’ve just got to keep believing which they are doing. The work they’re doing on the training ground is excellent but the psychological side shouldn’t be forgotten. I wouldn’t say it gives me a buzz but it’s something I’m really interested in and Dave [Wilkes] has seen a lot of it over the years.
"It’s normally the mentally strong who succeed so it’s something we’ve kept reminding the players of. You can have training sessions during the week where things just don’t go for you but you’ve got to turn that negative into a positive on a Saturday so you’re ready to play. That side of things is difficult at the moment, especially for the first years.”
United v Shrewsbury: Bacon, Olsen (Dixon 70), Brockbank (Kelly 68), Watson, Goldthorpe, Breen, Egan, Holt, Cowburn, Lloyd (Hall 60), Salkeld (Gordon 80). Sub: Ashton.
United v Walsall: Bacon, Olsen, Brockbank (Kelly 70), Watson, Goldthorpe, Breen, Egan, Dixon (McArren 70), Hall (Kerr 67), Holt, Cowburn (Lloyd 77). Sub: Ashton.