United’s under-18 side get their season under way with a home game against Blackpool on Tuesday afternoon [kick off 1pm] and youth boss Eric Kinder spoke to us this week about the benefit the group will feel from having trained and played with the first team through the bulk of pre-season.
“The gaffer has out a lot of faith in the young lads because he’s asked for them to be involved in training almost every day,” he said. “I think that’s fantastic. As I said after the Middlesbrough game, I’m completely fine with it because I know how important it is for the manager to have things the way he wants them.
“He has the biggest job on his hands because he has to get the first team ready for Saturday. That’s why I’ll help in any way as and when I can. If he wants all of the second years, he gets them, because it’s great experience for them and they’re helping us all to do our jobs.
“Something else I’ve said before, he’s going to be and has been a really good manager for a youth team coach to work with. Long may that continue, and we’ll just get on with it. The first team comes first, and we’ll do everything we can to make his job easier.”
“I look at my time as assistant at Exeter, and we had a group of under-23s who trained with the first team, which meant the under18s got nowhere near,” he continued. “Our lads haven’t only trained with the first team every day, but they’ve also been playing first team friendlies.
“Their performance against Tranmere in the second half was terrific. They went and won a game against a senior League One side. I know the first team had put them two goals up, but we came off with a 3-0 win and Lewis [Bell] scored the goal.
“The experience they’re all gaining from is invaluable. I can’t wait to see us play as a youth team when we’ve got everybody available.
“We’ll hopefully have a full complement on Tuesday for the game against Blackpool. If that is the case I’ll be able to see if they’ve learned anything from being around the first team so much. If they haven’t then they’re silly boys, but it won’t be doing them any harm, that’s for sure.”
But will he have to manage expectations now that so many of them have spent time with the first team group?
“They haven’t been back with me for a while, so I don’t know if I’ll have to manage their expectations or not once they do come back,” he told us. “I did catch a couple of them playing table tennis in the first team room, which isn’t allowed, but it’s only natural.
“I’ve been around under-18s long enough to know how their brain ticks. They think they’re indestructible and they can rule the world, and be the best players ever, so they will need knocking down.
“My concern and my biggest worry at the moment is trying to keep the other ones motivated. They can see their mates consistently playing and training with the first team when they aren’t.
“They’re all a year younger, but their brains don’t work like that, and they all want to know why they aren’t there.”
As for the season finally kicking off, he commented: “I always look forward to the first league game of the season and it’s always one you try and win.
“We’ve set our stall out and said we want to win our first three games before we go to Hungary. Luckily we now don’t miss any games while we’re over there, with us having a bye in the first round of the cup and us already rearranging this Blackpool game.
“It will be interesting to see how we perform. Whatever the results, and this is something else I’ve said before, is that I’d rather finish bottom of the youth league and have six lads getting pro deals than finish top of the youth league but have none of our lads make it.
“If training with the first team helps them, and the manager wants to keep them, then we might not win as many games as we should do, but we should have three or four who make it, which is what we’re all here for.”