Southend United Academy Manager Ricky Duncan was pleased with the reaction of his U18s squad to the midweek defeat against Peterborough United.But he still believes there is much to improve on following a 2-0 victory over Northampton Town.
Goals from Harry Phillips and George Burton bookended the triumph over the Cobblers at Boots & Laces, and Duncan was happy to see his team play the passing brand of football which they displayed during an impressive pre-season friendly campaign.
“I’m pleased for the lads, getting a clean sheet after the 7-0 defeat in midweek and getting a 2-0 win was good, but defensively I still don’t think we were great. No disrespect to Northampton - it was 1-0 nearly all the way through and was quite a tight game - but maybe other teams that have a little bit more about them would’ve punished us,” he claimed.
“I thought we had more possession than them, but at times we left ourselves a little bit open. Credit to the lads; they’ve come in and had a lot of harsh words said. We set them some challenges and some tasks to do coming into the game and we’ve achieved that, but I’ve told them that this result doesn’t make up for what happened at Peterborough. That was unacceptable, and a 2-0 win today is just a start going forwards.”
“Telling them that we wanted them to play in the first fifteen minutes definitely had an impact on them, because we certainly don’t want to play like we did in the second half at Peterborough and be a long ball team. We don’t want that as a staff, but it was important for the lads to know that we’ll only accept losing if they’re trying.”
“They’re going to make mistakes, they’re young players. They’re not fully fledged professionals yet; they’re diamonds in the rough that we have to get ready to go over to the first team, where they’ll be polished off and made into pros,” he explained.
“They’ve got to play the way we want to play, and today I thought we set out to play some better football. We moved the ball around better in possession and got it wide, and we scored two very good goals. We could’ve had more, but Josh has had to make a couple of saves, which was nice for him because of what happened to him against Peterborough.”
“I said to them that now they’ve got to use that as a building block to go forward and get back on track. We’re not making excuses, but we do have players that are missing. Some have come back into today, and Brandon Scott did well, getting a good header at the back post and it was a fantastic volley by Harry Phillips. That set the tone. I‘m pleased for them, and I was pleased we played football. That was the main thing. Now we’ve just got to work on making our defensive shape a little better.”
The matches continue to come thick and fast as Blues face AFC Wimbledon in a Youth Alliance Cup Second Round tie at Boots & Laces on Thursday afternoon before lining up against Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday morning. Duncan believes the back-to-back nature of the games has enthused the squad, and that they can continue to be successful if they work together as a team.
“I think it was a good team effort against Northampton. That’s what we’ve been lacking. We want them to be individuals, we’re here to produce individual players, but today they worked hard for each other. A few of them have got themselves focussed again. First and foremost, they’re U18 footballers.”
“If they get the opportunity to and play for the U21s, then we want them to put in a good performance, but the bottom line is that they might have to come back and they have to make sure the performance for the U18s is good. What we’ve had is that they’ve gone up and come back thinking they’ve made it, and I think Peterborough gave them a real good lesson that some of them needed. Today, they responded to that with the performances they were putting in during pre-season.
“Dave Huzzey and I have been working hard with them this week and we’ll be back in again on Tuesday. It’s good for the lads because it is back-to-back games and they’re not getting time to think about things. They’re having to step up to the challenge. It’s like the first team that have gone Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday, so it’s a good experience and it’ll be a tough game against Wimbledon. We all know what MK Dons are about; there are always goals involved when we meet them.”
“We have two games inside 48 hours, which will be a new test for us as well, so there’ll be a bit of squad rotation with Sonny Coutts and Macauley Keating back in training. We have to make sure the U16s are ready to come in and play their part, but hopefully the Northampton result will give them confidence,” he concluded.