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YOUTH: A very good response

Mark Birch on the midweek friendly at Wigan

14 July 2023

Youth team boss Mark Birch spoke to us about what was a good midweek performance down at Wigan as the under-18 pre-season programme continues to motor on.

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“I think it was an excellent performance because we did question the lads after the Middlesbrough game,” he said.

“We asked them about their attitude and how they were going to go about getting through the tougher times, and they were completely different on Wednesday.

“The attitude was exactly what we want to see, and they played with energy and desire. Having had a tough week of training they did things properly, and I can’t fault them at all.”

“When you ask for the raising of standards it’s good to see a response like that,” he added. “We have to remember that we have a group of under-16s who are now coming into the under-18 squad, and you have to educate them about what’s required.

“Sometimes that means telling them a few home truths, and they have to be able to take that and use it in the way it’s meant, as a learning tool.

“We said this the other day, you don’t get long as a scholar at all and you have to give yourself the best opportunity you can to be the best you can. That’s why, if we see something wrong, we’ll tell them.

“You hope they’ll listen and take what they’ve been told into the next day, the next week and the next game. That’s what they did.”

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The goals on the day came from Bobby Skinner and Romeo Park.

“I’m really pleased for Bobby because he probably hasn’t had the game time he would have wanted,” he commented. “He had a little illness in the middle of the second week of training, so that was his first start for us.

“It was a decent finish from him, and the second goal from Romeo [Park] was a case of him taking off from where he was with the first team on Tuesday night.

“His finish at Gretna was really good, and it was a similar kind of finish in this game. With Romeo playing a part with the professionals, and the other lads who are either on the bench or training with them every day, that’s exactly what they want.

“It is a stage of the season where you do tend to get opportunities, but you’ve got to make sure you grasp it when it comes.

“If the gaffer comes calling, and he needs somebody, you want to the one who is at the top of his list. It’s been a really good week for Romeo and we’re having to keep his feet on the ground a little bit.

“Part of making him understand that there’s a long way to go is that he played for the first team on Tuesday night, then he was playing for us on Wednesday. His attitude was faultless, to be fair.

“We didn’t want him to play 90 minutes at Wigan – in the end he did, and he didn’t moan about it at all. He was back in on Thursday morning to train with the first team again, so it’s a good period for him.”

Next up for the youth team is Saturday’s trip to Blackburn.

“That will be a really tough one for us because the squad situation down there means they’ll have a few first-year pros involved,” he explained.

“We still want to play the game because it’ll give our lads a look at where they’re trying to get go. On top of that our league is predominantly an U19 league and that means that when the fixtures start some of our 16 and 17 year old lads will be going up against that.

“It’s a test, but we want our players to be tested. We’ll set out a way we want to play and we’ll see how the lads come through it.”

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