Academy manager Darren Edmondson spoke to us about the latest pre-season friendly for the under-18 side as the young Blues earned a 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers having led for much of the second half.
“A bit of tiredness crept in at the end of the game and there was a little bit of a mix-up which gave Blackburn their penalty,” he said. “Generally I thought we were very dominant in the game, we played very well and we moved the ball a lot better than we have been in some of our other games recently.
“You find in pre-season that the lads start to get a bit more match fitness into their boots as the days go by and their minds get sharper along with that. That’s when you see them play more of their football and that’s why it was another very encouraging competitive game for us.”
“The good result keeps everything feeling positive,” he told us. “The last few weeks have been big weeks for the lads because they’ve worked very hard and they’ve had games to play in amongst that. We needed to look after them as well as keep them at it because the season is upon them and we want them to be at their best.
“We’re keeping them all as fresh as we can and they’re responding very well. At the moment they’re starting to click defensively and when you play the better teams in pre-season – the likes of Celtic, Derby, Newcastle and Blackburn – you expect that potentially you’re going to lose all of them.
It’s always a good thing to learn from your weaknesses and, if you do that, you tend to find that you’ll grow and develop from it ...
“What we learned last summer was that you can lose the games but you can still learn from it. It’s always a good thing to learn from your weaknesses and, if you do that, you tend to find that you’ll grow and develop from it. Hopefully come the start of the season we’ll have ironed a few issues out and we can get cracking again.”
“Fitness wise we have one or two lads who are just a little bit behind where I would expect them to be, but that will come,” he explained. “We’re trying to manage every member of the group and their needs as much as we can because the last thing we want is to overload them.
“Working so closely with all of them means we can then hopefully monitor them and then get them to the level they need to be at.”
Key to the progression of the squad from their summer foundation is the integration of the first years and the attitude shown by the second years as they face a tough season on and off the pitch.
“The first years are integrating well,” he confirmed. “Most of them have got some decent minutes under their belts and we’ve tried to give everybody at least 45 minutes in each of the games we played.
“The good thing we got from last season was that so many of the lads who are now first years got to play in our games because of the injury problems we had. That gave them a lot of unexpected but very valuable experience.
“Likewise the lads who are now second years got more pitch time as well, so it puts the squad in a very good place. We’ll see what that means for us once we get into the nitty gritty of the season.
“As we always know it’s a big year for the second years because they have to complete their education, play their football and deal with the mental side of wondering whether or not they’ll be offered a contract. We tried to help the lads with that last year but it does come down to individuals and how they find ways to cope and get through.
“Part of being involved in football is learning to be mentally strong and how to see yourself through the ups and downs you go through on and off the pitch. Hopefully that experience we’ve spoken about from both age groups will help to see them all through.”
And on being back in football action, he said: “It’s great to get back on the field because the closed season does seem to take a long time to get through. Before you know it you’re into the first game of the season and that’s why it’s good to have someone like Gav Skelton beside me.
“His arrival has given us a real lift because he’s such a positive character. The lads have taken well to him and they’re really excited about the work he’s got them doing. We work well together but I think a lot of that is because we’ve done it before.
“I know when it’s time to shut up, because he’s going to start speaking, and vice versa. We’re putting our own stamp on one or two things and for someone who is quite young he comes with a lot of experience in management. That can only be a plus for us all.”
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