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Ricky Duncan: Clash with Barton will be a good test for young Blues

3 November 2015

Duncan aiming for another run in the FA Youth Cup.

Southend United’s Academy Manager Ricky Duncan is excited about the club’s first foray into The FA Youth Cup this season when they travel to Barton Rovers on Tuesday evening for a First Round tie with the non-league outfit.

Barton provided Ricky Duncan’s first opposition in the competition ten years ago, with Blues emerging victorious, 3-1, at Roots Hall on the way to the Third Round and a narrow defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. Southend have subsequently reached that stage four more times in the last decade, and journeyed to the Fifth Round twice.

However, Duncan is focussed only on the next challenge, which sees his squad make the trip to Sharpenhoe Road on Tuesday night: “We always look forward to The FA Youth Cup. Today we’ve picked up a few little knocks in a tough game against AFC Bournemouth, and we’ll have to have a look at those,” he said. 

“It was a proper football match between two good sides, but I’ll be amazed if any of those players say they’re not fit for Tuesday night to go to Barton Rovers and hopefully put in the performance that we have to do as a professional side.”

“I think the standard of the football game that we’ve just watched between two good sides with a really good tempo was high, and we’ve got to be the same against Barton and give them the respect that they’re due because they’ve got this far in The FA Youth Cup, so they’re obviously not a bad side.”

“We’ve got to make sure that we go there and not think that, because we’re a pro team, we can just turn up because that won’t be the case. We’ve got to go there with the mentality that they’re a pro side and they’re up there and they’ve earned the right to play in this round, and we’ve got to do a professional job,” Duncan declared.

The experienced youth team supremo also revealed that Blues have received some assistance from Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference title rivals Luton Town in the build-up to the tie. Duncan is keen to use every advantage that he can to help Southend progress in what he considers to be a special competition.

“We’ve had a little look at them, and we’ve got some DVD of them, and we’ve spoken to a few people over at Luton, obviously, because they’re quite close to Luton, so we’ve had some background work which we’ll go through a bit more on Monday. They’ve had Sunday off because we’re not making it a massive thing and we’re sticking to what we normally do, but we know that they’re about.

“I’m a great believer that the way we’re playing this season, and the games we’re playing, that as long as we put in that performance again on Tuesday night – and even the second half performance here that we did with ten men – hopefully that will be enough to see us through. We’re going to a non-league ground, and I’m sure they’re really nice people, but it’s always a leveller and it’ll be a great test for our boys.

“They’ve got to step up to the plate now and get us through a tricky tie. That’s what The FA Youth Cup is all about; it’s about different occasions and one minute you can be playing at Barton Rovers and the next minute it can be Anfield. That’s what it brings, and it’s the same with the seniors; that’s why everyone loves The FA Cup, and it’s why they love The FA Youth Cup.

“Barton will be workers, they’ll graft and they’ll work hard for each other, and they’ve obviously got a good team spirit there. Any team that has got that is always a threat, and we found out that even when you play a team at the bottom of the league – and I’m not being disrespectful to Cambridge – that you can be 3-0 up and we disrespected the game in the second half and all of a sudden it was 3-2.

“Any team can score against you if you don’t play the game with respect. We’ll be paying them all the respect for where they’ve got. We’ll be taking them very seriously as we have done and hopefully we’ll have a good game against them and, if all goes well, at the end of 90 minutes we’ll be in the next round and playing against Newport County or Sholing away, which would be another great tie for us, and that’s what we want.”

And, if Southend’s 2011 Fifth Round trip to Anfield stands out as an obvious highlight during Duncan’s tenure, last season’s heart-breaking 4-3 home reverse to Middlesbrough in the Third Round will also live long in the memories of everyone that attended at Roots Hall. Duncan would love to see this year’s squad set up a big tie later in the competition, but he knows that they have to get past Barton first.

“I still have nightmares about the Middlesbrough game, I’m going to be honest, but that’s what I like. I like those type of games, I like the challenge and I know the players and staff really enjoy it. People at other places try to play it down and say it’s a hindrance and it gets in the way, but every 90 minutes these kids play is a learning curve for them.

“In the league, we develop – yes, we win games – but when it comes to The FA Youth Cup it’s about progression. We want to make it like a first team game and go as far as we can, and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll give it our best and, on the night, who knows what will happen, but we’ll go there ready to play the football we have been playing.

“Hopefully we’ll have a few more good nights in this run because that would be good for everybody. They are special days; when we went to Anfield we lost 9-0, but when I look back on the players from both sides and look at what they have done and what they have achieved – Daniel Bentley is being talked about as a £1m-plus goalkeeper and playing regularly in our first team – that’s the great thing.

“He may have conceded nine goals that night, but Dan’s playing regularly in League One and he’s one of the top goalkeepers, and there were lads playing for them – the most notable being Raheem Sterling – who have gone on, and that’s the thing about The FA Youth Cup, it puts people on the teamsheet; people get to see them and remember them.

“I’m looking forward to it. I love it, and hopefully we can go as far as we can and maybe get a big team later on, but we’ve got to get past this big team first, because that’s what Barton Rovers are. They’re the next challenge and they’re the ones we’ve got to get past and the ones we’ve got to concentrate on,” he concluded.

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