Academy manager Darren Edmondson on the Wigan game and team spiritAcademy boss Darren Edmondson spoke to us about the growing sense of unity within his squad and throughout the Academy set-up as a whole.
“The lads are finding ways to win at the moment,” he said. “The good thing about that is they’re doing it their own way as much as taking on board what Dave [Wilkes] and I are saying. Winning games brings its own type of team spirit and that was epitomised in the game against Wigan.
“We finished the game with a goalkeeper up front and four under-16s playing as well. We had to dig in for 10 or 15 minutes at the end when we had players going down with cramp in the extremely hot conditions.
“The three goals we scored were excellent. Part of the reason we signed Max Cowburn, even though he came to us late, was that we saw the technical ability he has. His goals showed that.
“He curled a free kick into the top corner and then scored an unbelievable goal from two or three yards inside their half. That was great technique, vision and awareness to see an opportunity like that.”
“When we talk about team spirit it’s running through the whole club at the moment,” he added. “The results in the Academy have helped at U18 level and the introduction of players from the U16 team into that squad has helped it to filter down to the other age groups as well.
“Added to that, you always find that when the first team is doing well it filters through the whole club. It brings excitement and optimism, but work still has to be done to keep it going.
“Even at Wigan, we were two up at half time but we warned the lads it was still going to be a long afternoon. They’re always a strong side and it’s a fantastic club with a solid history of bringing young players through. They did come back at us and it was nice to see the way the lads reacted.”
“That is when you can talk about team spirit and they’ve turned the corner with the way they’re dealing with each other, even to the point of how they train with each other,” he commented. “There’s a lot more mutual respect within the group and that’s helping us to get the level of performances we’re getting.
“Understandably they’re also excited by where they are in the table at the moment. They didn’t really do themselves justice last season but they’ve dealt with a lot this year, in terms of injuries and absentees, and they’re looking forward to taking it even further once everybody is back.
“We wanted them to believe in themselves when we started this journey in the summer and we wanted to see them enjoying their job. They’re buying into the messages we’re giving them and it’s getting them results.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they react when they suffer a set-back but there have been periods in games where it hasn’t gone their way and they’ve stuck at it. We’ve seen midfielders and the back four deal with pressure positionally, so we’re always putting mechanisms in there to test them. As will probably happen, we’ll lose a couple of games on the trot and we’ll have to deal with it. That’s one we can assess if and when it comes along.”
The last ten days brought more good news for the U18 side as first-year stopper Lee Ashton played the full 90 minutes of the reserve game against Oldham and second-year midfielder Cameron Salkeld joined the first team squad for their trip to Doncaster.
“The boys have to be ready because the manager does want to integrate them,” Edmondson said. “Lee [Ashton] isn’t quite ready at the moment and he’ll be the first to accept that.
“However, it was good education for him and that’s what it’s about for these boys. He made a couple of errors in the game but he’ll learn from it. He’s an intelligent, quiet young man and he picks things up quickly.
“He doesn’t have the typical goalkeeper characteristics in his personality and I always think keepers, simply because of what they are, should have a flaw in there somewhere. The top ones seem to have some little quirk or other, but we haven’t found his yet. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops but he will only have gained from that experience last week.
“When I first got here Keith spoke about getting our players ready for when they were 18, or even before that if the circumstances are right. Cameron Salkeld was around the first team on Tuesday night and that’s a reward for the way he’s improved. Mentally he’s a completely different young man now and he has attributes which have allowed him to train with the first team.
“That has then got him the invitation to travel to the away game. The advice I gave him was just to be himself. What tends to happen with young lads when they go with the first team is they try to overdo things. They try to do things they can’t do naturally a bit too much, so I reminded him that he’s got there on the back of what he can do and that he should keep it that way.
“If he works on what he can improve in terms of power, strength and movement he’ll be doing fine. Everyone is impressed with what he’s done so far so he doesn’t have to get nervous and try to do things he isn’t comfortable with.
“Hopefully things like this will keep happening for our lads because I’d rather lose numbers with them being away with the first team than because they’ve got a broken bone. The horrible side of the job so far has been seeing lads, particularly our second years, miss out through injury when they’re in such an important period.
“If they’re travelling or training with the first team it’s what the job is all about for us as coaches. I don’t think I’ll ever mind that because it’s great for us, the lads and for the football club.”
Looking ahead to the Saturday game against Blackpool, he said: “We played them in pre-season and they beat us. The way we approach it is to focus on what we need to do, and we will possibly have a couple of bodies back to pad out the squad.
“They’ll all go into it knowing how we want to progress our play through the middle areas and hopefully we’ll see it come off.”
United – Bacon, Kelly-Hodgson, Breen, Watson, Goldthorpe, Hutchinson, Cowburn (Wells 80), Adawusi (Dixon 45), Lloyd, Salkeld (Ashton 75), McCarren (Gordon 80).
Goals – Cowburn (2), Salkeld