United’s new Professional Development Phase Coach Gav Skelton was able to run the rule over this season’s scholars for the first time when they contested the Raydale Cup against Gretna, Annan and Workington at a mini-tournament over the course of last weekend.
The young Blues stepped up to the challenge and recorded a 2-0 victory over hosts Gretna on Saturday afternoon courtesy of goals from Max Cowburn and Josh Dixon.
That took them into a Sunday final against Workington and they set the tone in that game just before half time when Josh Dixon put United in front from the spot. Striker Belchior Papa doubled the tally before supersub Luke Lloyd stole the show with a quickfire hat-trick to seal a convincing 5-0 victory.
Speaking about it this week, Skelton said: “I think you always like to get games that have a competitive edge during pre-season. It was a different kind of opposition to what the lads will usually face and it was a good physical test for them.
“They were up against men, or players who are slightly older than they are, and in the back of their minds was the fact that there was a cup to win as well. That always adds a bit of an edge and you could see that they wanted to do well from the very first whistle.
“They coped with the physical aspect of it all really well and the good thing is that we think there’s even more to come. We played some good football but other areas showed up where we clearly need to do more work, and that’s also useful for us to take away from it.
We’re already reminding them that the main thing is the performance level, individually and collectively ...
“We’re already reminding them that the main thing is the performance level, individually and collectively, but we’d be telling lies if we didn’t admit that positive results make it all a little bit more pleasing.
“There was a smile on my face when I watched them lift the trophy, let’s put it that way.”
On pre-season as a whole, he said: “We have some first years who have come to us straight from school and pre-season can be a shock to the system for them.
“They’re training two or three times a day and they also have the games to play on top of that. They’ve performed and adapted well to it all and, to be fair to them, they’ve come back in really good shape.
“What we have to remember is that some of these boys have just turned 16 and they still have growing and learning to do. The second years have all come back knowing they need to push on, so there’s a lot going on with all of them.
“The new lads also have to get used to the fact that there are bits and pieces to do away from the football side of it, but we’re seeing them build up a bit of camaraderie and that’s also important. They’re helping each other out and it’s that kind of thing which transfers to the pitch.
“Another of the good things to come out of the weekend was that they showed they’re taking some of what we’re doing from training and putting it into the 90 minutes. We’re still very early in the summer and we’re in that process where we’re getting to know them, and they’re getting to know us, but there are encouraging signs so far.”
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