United’s 4-3 victory over Port Vale last weekend sees the under-18 lads firmly embedded and nicely poised in mid-table in the North West Youth Alliance league as they head towards the halfway point of the campaign.
And with back-to-back league victories under their belts, and seven goals scored in those two fixtures, confidence is high at what is an important stage of the season.
“The lads have done well since the disappointment of going out of the FA Cup,” academy boss Darren Edmondson said. “Last week was a good week for them. We had two league games on the Saturdays then the Cumberland Cup on the Wednesday.
“I think the game against Pirelli was important because they came through what was quite an aggressive 90 minutes for them. Pirelli were disappointed with the penalty decision, so there was the pressure of having to play in a game where the opposition are really coming for you.
“The first team staff are involved in those Cumberland Cup games, and I think the whole club this year has been better for the lads. They know they’re being watched, and we have training sessions as a whole group every now and again which gives them another emotional lift. It’s fantastic for them.”
“They took confidence from having dealt with the Cumberland Cup game, and you could see that in the performance at Port Vale last Saturday,” he continued. “Our attacking play was very pleasing to watch, we scored four goals, but we probably could have scored eight or nine.
“I think we hit the woodwork four or five times, so we were pleased to come away with the win. It was a good week on the back of what had been a good performance in the cup game against Fleetwood, even though we lost that one to what was a very good finish.”
On the high number of goals being notched up at the moment, he told us: “We’ve worked a bit more on looking at how to create more chances and at situations where we can get more people in and around the box.
“We haven’t changed the system, that’s remained the same, but we’ve given them the confidence to get forward. I think once you score a couple of goals in a match the belief is there that you’ll do it every week. Let’s be honest, belief and confidence in any sport are important.
“We sometimes forget that most of the lads who are playing are only 16, and a couple of them are only just 16. They can be fragile, so confidence is massive. Our job is to keep them motivated, but also to keep their confidence high and make sure they enjoy the experience.
“For me, that’s key to life and getting the best from it.”
The victories against Blackpool and Port Vale have closed the gap on the top three places and, with three games to come this side of Christmas, they’ll be looking to keep the momentum going with a key game against league leaders Wigan their final outing before the break.
“Gav [Skelton] and I looked at the league table this morning and it can be irritating for us,” he admitted. “You can look back and see there are certain games we should have won, or where we let ourselves down, and they’re the difference between where we are now and being in the top three, which is where we feel we could be.
“The division is very tight both ways and we’ve spoken to the lads this week about how much better off they could and probably should be with the way they’ve played.
“Maybe that comes down to the mental approach, and that side of the game has to be there and bang on whether you’re away at Wigan or home to Morecambe. You want the same attitude and application otherwise you lose games and you find yourself at the wrong end of the table when, ability wise, you know you should be much higher.
“The goal now is to remain unbeaten through the three games we have before Christmas, and that should put us in a good position when we start up again in the New Year.”
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