Huzzey happy with competition for places...Youth team coach Dave Huzzey is happy to see competition for places across the squad following an impressive 5-1 victory over LTB Sussex Academy at Boots & Laces on Saturday.
Blues took on the south coast-based outfit, who are coached by former Shrimper Mark Beard, at the weekend as they reached the mid-point of their pre-season schedule, and Huzzey felt Southend performed well: “It was another good run-out for the lads,” he said.
"They’re a good side, so it was definitely worthwhile. They had six players out of Brighton & Hove Albion and probably another six out of Crawley Town. With the Crawley centre having closed down, they now play for them, which is good, and they had some good players. I was impressed with them as a non-league side; they were one of the best we’ve played.”
Freddie Gard, George Burton and Jason Williams netted for Blues in the first half before Renei Batlokwa and Nico Cotton added gloss to the scoreline late in the second period, although Huzzey believed that it was the display after the interval that was more impressive.
“At half-time, although we were winning and had scored three good goals, and on the counter-attack we looked like we were going to score all the time, we didn’t control the game. We were good, but they kept the ball better than us in the first half,” he revealed.
“We didn’t keep it well enough and didn’t control the game, and they looked like they could have scored a couple of times themselves in the first half. When we were winning by three, we should’ve shut up shop and controlled the whole tempo, but I looked at my clock and it wasn’t until the 27th minute that we controlled possession for the first time and waited for the right time to go forward.”
“From that moment, we started to do it better, and the second half was completely different. We had all the possession and controlled the whole game and the performance was excellent, yet after 23 minutes we were losing the second half 1-0.”
“What we need to do is try and find the middle ground; sometimes we’ve got to be a bit direct, like we were in the first half, and other times we need to keep it like we did in the second, but we don’t want to overplay it. The good thing about this group of players is that we’ve got a good mixture that can keep it when they want to keep it and they can go longer when they want to do that.”
Huzzey has been particuarly impressed with the influence of the first-year scholars on the squad, with Burton and Batlokwa contributing goals in this match to add to efforts from Norman Wabo and Harry Phillips against Oxford United.
“Jason Williams said to me that there’s so much depth in this squad. We’ve got so many good players that some won’t be able to start certain games; some will only be able to come on in matches for the final few minutes, but it’s a really good year for us,” he confirmed.
“The first-years are really making their mark. We’ve got so many good players out there. One thing about the first-years, and particularly the three that played in the centre of midfield in the second half, is they are so technical. They’re not the biggest of midfield threes, but they overcome that because they are so technically good and they have excellent spacial awareness.”
“It’s going to be a case of trying to find the right ones to play at the right times. There are games where it’ll be best to play that three, other games where it’ll be best to play the older three and then others when it’ll be two and one. What we’re trying to get them all to realise is that they are not going to play in every game.”
One youngster who is just relishing the opportunity to play is winger Nico Cotton, who featured for the final quarter of the contest after a delayed return to pre-season training: “Nico wasn’t going to play this game, but he’s trained absolutely brilliantly and his attitude has been spot on,” said Huzzey.
“He deserved to get the last 15-20 minutes of the game and he deserved his goal. He would tell you as much as I will that he could’ve scored more; he had two clean-cut chances where he should’ve scored, but he was the first to come up to me afterwards and say that, although he scored his penalty, he should’ve had a hat-trick. He looked bright, he looked quick and sharp and he took his penalty well.”
Now, after three home games, Blues U18s will take to the road to tackle three Category Two Academies in the shape of Ipswich Town, Colchester United and Charlton Athletic ahead of the Football League Youth Alliance South-East Conference season opener against Gillingham at Boots & Laces on 2nd August.
“It’s good how it’s worked out. Millwall was a tough test in our first week back, against Oxford we were excellent, today we were excellent and now we’re going into three really hard games. There will be a lot more pressure on us; are we going to be able to play the same way or is it going to be more of a battle? I think we’re going to learn a lot more about our players, but so far so good,” Huzzey concluded.