United and Bradford meet for the second time in two seasons in the FA Youth Cup as they come together at Brunton Park on Thursday night [kick off 6pm] for their second-round meeting.
The Blues negotiated their way past Chester in round one, with the Bantams coming out on the right side of a thriller of their own when they beat Blackpool 3-2 at the same stage.
Last season’s encounter was, I’m sure you’ll remember, as tense as it gets with the away team grabbing a winner to win 3-2 deep into extra time.
Mark Trueman’s side were up in Carlisle last weekend for a Youth Alliance Cup game, and we spoke to academy boss Eric Kinder about both games earlier this week.
“It’s a really difficult situation and it’s happened to us a couple of times in the past,” he said. “We’ve played a game on the Saturday then played the same opposition in midweek and it’s surreal, if I’m being honest.
“This one is even worse because our fixture at the weekend was a dead game. We were both out of the Alliance Cup and we knew that. It was a game that had nothing on the result whatsoever, but we’re now about to play what arguably is the youth team’s biggest fixture of the season on Thursday against the same side.
“I don’t know how many changes they’ll make, but we made two or three ourselves on Saturday and that was just to protect some of the lads who have had a lot of games recently. It was just a very strange game.”
“The standard of the game last Saturday was poor and it was a long one to watch,” he continued. “You can take a positive or a negative out of our finishing. We created so many chances we could easily have been six or seven up at half time, but we weren’t because we’d only managed to score the one goal from Dylan Garvey.
“Having made so many chances, does that mean we’ll put them all away on Thursday? That’s certainly what I hope will happen. We dominated the first half, we missed a penalty, hit the bar and went so close on so many occasions.
“It was a day where we messed about with the formation and we tried things, and we had an under-16 player involved who we’re looking at. At the end of the day we came through with no injuries, and a win, so we’re ready for Thursday.”
On making sure the lads are fully focussed on their FA Cup encounter, he told us: “Well, the way they played on Saturday it looked like they were thinking about Thursday anyway!
“They weren’t really pressing the way they usually do and the tackling wasn’t what we expect. I fully understand it because the FA Youth Cup is massive for these young lads. It’s a fantastic competition and they all want to be involved.
“We’re at home, and they don’t often get the chance to play on the main pitch, and they know they go up against Blackburn if they go through. If we play anything like we can, we’ve got a great chance.
“It is strange knowing who you’ll get in the next round but it’s done on purpose, that’s how it’s always been because they dangle the carrot. The draw always comes out on the Friday before the next round kicks in, so you tend to know who you’ve got.
“It gives you a boost because you want to play big clubs. Going back all those years we knew we had Man United away before we’d played Sheffield Wednesday here. We went through that one on penalties and it was so nerve-wracking and we desperately wanted to win the game so we could play the next one.
“That can be a bit of a problem with nerves, but it’s another home game and that’s all you ever want. For the lads, if they do get through, and obviously there’s no guarantee, but I would have liked it to have been away at Blackburn so they could get to see the ground.
“For obvious reasons I’d rather play here so I can stay out of the way, with my connections down there. The big thing is that it’s an incentive, so let’s see how they handle that.
“The other incentive is that it’s the main pitch. They play in front of three people walking their dogs on a Saturday morning, so it doesn’t affect them at all that nobody is allowed in. Brunton Park excites them.
“They won’t have it from me that it’s exactly the same size as Creighton; I asked Dave Mitchell to make Creighton exactly the same size and he has. They think Brunton Park’s huge in comparison, but it isn’t.”
“The first years handled it very well against Chester,” he commented. “The second years have played on it before, last year, so they’re used to it. I didn’t see any problems in the first round when we played well for 60 minutes, but the story of our season is we’ve been very inconsistent, we can’t put 90 minutes together.
“We have a good 45 to 60 minutes then let the opposition back in. It’s been a massive concern. If you look at our results we don’t score a lot of goals, we win games 1-0, 2-1. Bradford have been here before, they turned us over last year in the last seconds of extra-time, that will be in the back of the second years’ minds; the first years will just get on with it.”
One player who will miss out on Thursday is the in-form Ryan Swailes, who got a goal and two assists in the Chester game.
“It’s really tough on Ryan because it took him a while to get to grips with academy football and he’s had a really good start to this season,” he said. “He’s out for a couple of months and I really do feel for him.
“He was in bits last week, we couldn’t help him at all, but he’s a tough lad and he’ll come through.”
United v Bradford last Saturday – Breeze (Simons 46), Steele, Barnett, Leslie (c), Day, Ellis, Taylor (Hill 66), Garvey, Fishburn, Bell, Watt. Subs – Robinson, Walton, Kilsby.
Goal – Garvey (43)
Booking – Hill (90)
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