Carlisle United travel to Highbury tonight as they face fellow North West Alliance side Fleetwood Town in the first round of this season’s FA Youth Cup competition.
Speaking about the game earlier this week, youth boss Darren Edmondson said: “It’s always a competition the lads look forward to, and one they look for straight away when the fixtures come out to see when it’ll be played.
“Even the first years ask about it and I think this one is a great tie for them. Fleetwood Town have a lovely stadium so it’s a great place for us to go. Playing under the lights on a pitch like that will give the lads a lift as well, so it’ll be interesting to see how they react.”
With the FA Cup at all levels bringing its own kind of ‘buzz’ he commented: “It gives the lads a good lift if they can have two or three games in this competition. They travel to good stadiums on a team bus and they play in front of a crowd under the floodlights.
“It’s good for everybody to be involved with. Performance wise, you just can’t even begin to guess what you’re going to get. I’m mindful of my previous two seasons in this competition, and I’ve seen that some of the young lads freeze under the lights, and some rise to it.
“Two years ago we had a little run of four games and we ended up playing at the Kingpower Stadium after Christmas, which was great. Last year we froze at home to Hartlepool, of all teams, so, and I mean this in a nice way, this particular fixture could go anywhere.
“Hopefully the lads will cope with it mentally and it will go in our favour. They had a taster of it when they played Workington in the Cumberland Cup. That was under floodlights and in front of a crowd, so it really is down to how they deal with the night and the exposure that’s put on them. We’re hoping this year’s second years will have learned things from the Hartlepool game.
“Two of our main second years, Jay Kelly and Josh Dixon, will be missing through injury, which is a shame for them, but hopefully the additional game time the first years have had because of that will set them in good stead.”
With a few extra nerves expected we wondered if it would be difficult or different in terms of managing the expectations of his young charges.
“I think, overall, you find out about people in FA Cup games more than you do from games you play week in and week out,” he agreed. “There’s a mountain of pressure which comes with a game like this and it’s up to them all to rise to it.
“All we can do is keep advising them and keep educating them on what to expect as much as we can. We’ve been doing that over the last couple of weeks as the game has started to get ever-closer, so we’ll see what happens on the night and we’ll deal with it as it happens.
“That’s why these games are exciting for me and Gav [Skelton] as well, because we’re just not sure what we’re going to get from these lads. That makes it intriguing and it opens up a completely different side to our job, because we have to manage a completely different set of circumstances.
“Knowing what to do to get everybody prepared is a difficult one because we tried a few things ahead of last year’s Hartlepool game, and it just didn’t work. That’s why we’re trying to keep it as low key and as calm as we can this time round.
“We’ll probably know within the first ten minutes who is coping with it and who isn’t, it’ll be that quick. That’s when we will have to manage individuals and the team almost as we go.”
Having played Fleetwood at home in the league recently – a game which ended all-square and with no goals – it brings two teams together who know each other quite well, adding another interesting dimension to the fixture.
“I’ve just had a discussion with Gav [Skelton] on scouting each opposition you play against at this level, and whether or not it makes too much of a difference if you do that,” he commented. “I know a lot of clubs watch teams back, and we’ve done exactly that by watching Fleetwood playing against Mansfield this weekend. They beat Mansfield 3-2 on Saturday but, being honest, I’m not sure how much we can take from it.
“Yes, you get to see their shape and which players stand out, and things like that, but it’s totally different in an FA Cup game. The team which rides the emotional wave better will find that they can go on to pass the ball well and get their game going. That’s why I don’t think we can take too much form having played them a few weeks ago either.”
One bit of good news ahead of the game was the confirmation that second-year winger Liam McCarron, who recently signed his first professional deal, will be available to take part in this evening’s fixture.
“The first team management have confirmed that Liam will be available to play for us, and that’s good news because he gives us another attacking threat,” he confirmed. “Liam can turn a game on its head quickly for you simply because he has that ability, raw talent and pace which means he can beat two players without thinking about it too much at under-18 level.
“If he doesn’t score he sets others up, so he’s a good player to have around. However, there are another ten players who will start with him and they’re good players in their own right. It isn’t all about him. If they all play as a team, it’s that collective approach which will win them the game.”
“When it comes to managing Liam, because of his involvement with the first team, I don’t see it as a big issue,” he said. “I think we saw that his current situation may have affected him when we played Workington in the Cumberland Cup.
“Without wanting to put a negative on him, he was trying too hard in that game to be the superstar. Once you start trying too hard in any job it backfires on you and you find that it’s actually harder to do what you’re trying to do.
“He’ll have learned from that. The good thing is that generally, around the place, he’s easy to manage. He’s very level-headed and we can sometimes forget that he’s still a young, daft 17-year old. His physique and the way he plays the game suggests that he’s older, and he does come across as being a mature lad.
“The manager has told us to make sure he continues to do his jobs, which keeps him grounded, and his family are brilliant. They make sure he keeps himself in a good place and I don’t think we’ll ever have a problem managing him.
“Like I say, we may have to remind him during the game about certain things, and he knows he needs to respect other under-18s as well, because they’re also good footballers. He doesn’t need to think that he has to do it all on his own, but he’ll be fine, I have no doubt about that.”
As for what he wants from the game, he said: “All we want is for the lads to go out there and give it their best shot. Overall I wouldn’t say it’s a competition which has too much input into who gets a contract and who doesn’t.
“It’s just another way of assessing how players react to, and deal with, a different type of situation. I wouldn’t say that Carlisle United are going to win the FA Youth Cup this year but if the result goes our way it means we get another fixture.
“If it doesn’t we’ll look at the reasons why and at what the lads can take from the game to make them better and to help them progress.”
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