Darren Edmondson on managing the U18 groupYouth boss Darren Edmondson spoke to us this week about how the lads are coping with what has been an up and down start to the season.
“We talked a couple of months ago about how the lads would react to a couple of defeats on the spin, and that’s what they’re going through now,” he said. “In certain games they’ve reacted positively, but we’ve had one or two who haven’t been quite as mentally strong and that has potentially cost us some results.
“The thing I’ve learned very quickly is the emotional side of the game for 16 and 17-year olds. I’ve been learning how to help them deal with the biting your lip emotion rather than the shouting and bawling emotion. You’ve just got to step back and think of things from their perspective.
“As far as I’m concerned you’ve got to enjoy your football, especially at this age. As much as there’s pressure round the corner, when it comes to decisions being made, you’ve got to enjoy coming into a professional football club to work every day.
“Let’s not forget they’ve been given a chance to become a professional here and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, as much as that demands a level of doing things properly we’ve got to make sure we get them enjoying it because that’s when they’ll produce their best football.
“Look at the first team. They’re getting results, the environment is a good place to work and there are smiles on faces every day. That’s what you need because it really does help you to play your best football.”
Having started the season with a run of six games unbeaten a run of serious injuries to key players has made things difficult in recent weeks, but the lads have still managed to put together some decent passages of play.
“The performance on Friday [against Rochdale] was fine,” he said. “Conceding in the last minute from your own corner does happen at every level. I watched Middlesbrough score from a corner at the weekend, which did put a wry smile on my face because I was still feeling a bit down with our lads for having done the same thing.
“Generally, things have been very positive. We just need to transfer the training ground work on shape and movement onto the pitch. That’s the hardest part when you’re that age. To continue to want to get on the ball at 16, when things aren’t going well and you’re getting beat, is a big ask.
“We’re trying to push them to continue to believe and play football. Even when it’s going badly you’ve got to do the right things all the time because it will turn itself round. As much as we love football they’re seeing the side of it that isn’t very nice at the moment.
“It bites you on the bum a lot if you don’t keep going. It can be an unpleasant environment if you aren’t doing the right things or results aren’t going your way. We’ve played ten games and they’ve already been on a huge rollercoaster. We didn’t win any in pre-season then we went six games unbeaten, and now we haven’t won in five.
“They’re seeing all the emotions which they’ll see again if they want long careers in football. That happens at all levels, but it’s about how you deal with it. I think the start of this season has been a great experience for our first years especially.”
“The Burnley game especially came down to the fact that they had a strong group of 18-year olds on the pitch and we had five or six under-16s,” he explained. “That’s another side I’ve seen recently, just how much the physical side can cost you.
“Last Friday was a very close encounter against Rochdale because they have some very good players. They probably had the better of the first half. Once we’d dealt with our emotions and concentrated on our football a bit more we started to play some good stuff.
“We were dominant but they brought some quick players on up front and they caught us on the counter. It really was horrible for our lads to take. Yet again, and I keep saying it, they will learn from it and they’re getting some very good lessons and experiences under their belts.”
One player who has seen as much as anybody within the group so far this season is Cameron Salkeld, who made his first team debut in the home victory over Blackburn last month. That, of course, was then followed by his first senior goal for the club against Fleetwood Town.
“Cameron has had some emotional ups and downs recently,” Edmondson said. “He’s gone from being involved with the first team to suffering one or two defeats with us.
“I’ve had to have a few chats with him about the whole rollercoaster of being an apprentice and then being pushed up, only then to be brought back into the youth set-up again. It’s a situation where just when you think you’ve made it you get kicked in the teeth.
“You have to wake up and realise that you haven’t made it until you’re out there having earned the right to be with the first team day in and day out. He still has to earn his stripes and he’s got to remember that.
“There’s still a lot for him to do in his game, emotionally and with a ball at his feet, but he is our talisman. He just needs to step up all the time because he does get a bit frustrated. As I say, it’ll come, because he’s still learning.”
United 1 – 2 Burnley: Bacon, Goldthorpe, Breen (Hodgson 85), Watson, Taylor, Hutchinson, Egan, Olsen, Lloyd (Cowburn 68), Salkeld, Maboy. Subs – Ashton, Dixon, Kerr.
Goal – Breen (pen)
United 1 – 4 Preston: Bacon, Goldthorpe, Olsen, Watson (Dixon 83), Taylor (Hodgson 45), Hutchinson, Egan, Holt, Lloyd (Kerr 70), Salkeld, Cowburn. Subs – Ashton, Brockbank.
Goal – Egan
United 1 – 2 Rochdale: Bacon, Olsen (Dixon 75), Brockbank, Watson, Taylor, Hutchinson, Egan, Holt, Lloyd (Kerr 80), Salkeld, Cowburn. Subs – Ashton, Gordon, McCarren.
Goal - Cowburn