Academy manager Darren Edmondson brought us up to date with what has been a busy period as the lads go through a series of cup and league fixtures which are keeping them on their toes as the games comes thick and fast.
“It’s been a busy period, but it’s been good,” he said. “I think you find the stress is more on the first years when it’s game after game like this because the second years have had a year to get used to it.
“We try to make sure we rotate as many players as we can and particularly because we continue to be busy with the FA Youth Cup, Cumberland Cup, Central Reserve League Cup and Youth Alliance League games to fit in.
“To be honest, the lads enjoy playing midweek as well as Saturday because it breaks up the training schedule for them. We were able to get the under-16s involved a bit through half term as well, with a game over at Middlesbrough, and that gives us a chance to look at those lads who could be in the frame for next season.
“It’s a good link-up we have with Boro for doing that, and I know they enjoy the games as much as we do. We went there a couple of times last season and we also do the same with Sunderland. It’s great for our lads to go and see the facilities and we can use it as motivation to get them to aspire to progress their football careers.
“It’s why we try to get to Celtic and Rangers in pre-season as well. They’re all great clubs and the lads get to see what it’s about at the top end. Sometimes it gives a little kick up the backside to a few to them to get them to think about whether they have what it takes to get to somewhere like that.”
And with the first-round proper of the FA Youth Cup looming large, he told us: “This competition has its own buzz at any level. At FC United of Manchester last season, for example, the size of the crowd got to our lads in the first 20 minutes because there was close to 400 people there.
“Once we got to grips with that we then started to come to terms with the game. For Prescot Cables or Nelson this year, it’s a cup final for them, and that isn’t being disrespectful in any way. It’s just the way the FA Cup works at all levels.
“Whoever wins through from their tie, they’ll come and raise their game because they know we’re a league club. They’ll treat it like a cup final. We’ll have to match that knowing that a good victory in this competition can set us up for going to places like Oakwell and the Kingpower Stadium, as it did for us last season.”
On recent results in the league games, he commented: “We’re struggling for consistency in the league at the moment. I was talking to Gavin [Skelton] the other day and telling him about the run we went on in the FA Cup, where we won four FA Cup games but struggled in the league for 12 to 14 games in that time.
“We tried to learn from that last season and make them a bit more mentally strong. It’s important to keep as many fit as we can so we have as much experience as we can on the pitch.
“What happens in both penalty areas is key and we’re coming slightly short in both boxes at the moment. We’re creating loads of chances without taking them, and at the same time that puts pressure on the defenders. If you let one goal in the spiral is there for all to see. Hopefully we’ll get stronger and better as we go along.”
With a run of cup fixtures bringing two games a week through the early part of November, he admitted that it was going to be a test of character and nerve for his young charges.
“We’ve got the Central League Cup game against Fleetwood to play in the middle of November, so it will be a busy few weeks,” he said. “if we can get a couple of victories in amongst it everybody will be happy.
“Even through the inconsistent results the performances have generally been good. The work ethic hasn’t changed, and we’ve been telling them that football is as much about what you do out of possession as it is in possession.
“First and foremost you’re a team mate and you’ve got to work hard for your other team mates. If you’ve got ability you’ve got to be able to show that while you’re fatigued as well. Everybody has to win the ball back very quickly and play from there.
“There’s still education at this level and we’ve been reminding them that hard work will conquer the day if you then take your chances. The last month has been inconsistent in terms of results, but I think the penny is starting to drop with a few.”
One young player who has enjoyed an excellent month is second year defender Aidan Hutchinson, who found himself called up to the first team squad to cover the left back position.
“For Aidan to be involved with the first team has been brilliant for him,” he told us. “His attitude is second to none every day in training and I think that’s what the manager likes about him.
“He’s got that attitude and desire and he’s also an excellent defender. The longer he stays with them the better for him. There will obviously be some people coming back from injury and suspension, which might bring him back to us, but it’s been a great experience for him.
“He’s trained with them for a couple of weeks and been on the bench, so that will only help his confidence. We need to see other lads step up to the plate when required, or when they go training with the first team. They can’t go under and into their shell. They’ve got to stick their chest out and show the gaffer they’re here and they can do it.
“That pathway from youth team to first team is what this club has always been about. The last few weeks will hopefully encourage some of his team mates to put that bit of extra effort in. They should all be thinking that it could be them next. As soon as they come into a professional environment they should want to get into the first team squad. It’s what they do day in, day out that will get them there.”
Click HERE to watch an interview with Darren Edmondson on iFollow United now.