Southend United U23s coach Kevin Maher was delighted to conclude the 2017/18 campaign with some silverware after the club claimed the Central League Cup Southern Section Final with a 2-0 victory over Milton Keynes Dons.
Norman Wabo scored both goals for Blues as they reclaimed the trophy that they last won in 2016, and Maher was full of praise for the squad at the conclusion of a fine campaign. He also highlighted the work that goes on around the Academy to make such a success possible.
“It’s feels brilliant,” he declared. “I’m delighted for the players; we’ve put a lot of work in this season and it’s nice to win something at the end of it. This provides some recognition for the players and for the Academy, and for the work that goes in by all the staff.”
“A lot of people work very hard, and the work that they put into the players before they get to me is very important.,Then there are the staff we have – Jay Collison, our strength and conditioning coach, Amy Rogers, the physio, Jack Wilson, our analyst – and I’m delighted for them and for the players,” he said.
Maher believes the way that players have progressed from the U23s into the first-team this season, with no fewer than 12 Academy graduates featuring for the club at senior level throughout the campaign, is a reason to feel extremely positive.
“It goes to show that the Academy is working when you’ve got Dru Yearwood in the first-team, Elvis Bwomono in the first-team and Nathan Bishop on the bench, as well as Lewis Gard breaking through as well. We’re doing something right and this tops off a good season for us.”
“I know it’s about developing players, but winning is a nice habit to get into as well. A lot of players have come through to make their debuts this season, and credit to the previous manager, Phil Brown, and now Chris Powell as well because he has come in and showed that he isn’t afraid to play them.”
“There are a lot of positives at the club, and we’re looking forward to a good off-season and then coming back because the club is on the up,” added Maher, who made over 400 first-team appearances for the club as a player. The former Blues midfielder also reserved special praise for striker Norman Wabo, and for the defensive solidity his squad exhibited.
“Ebbsfleet went out of the play-offs and that allowed Norman to come back and play for us, and I’m glad that he could do that,” he claimed. “He probably didn’t get as much time on the pitch as he wanted at Ebbslfeet, but the experience will have done him the world of good. He’s shown what he can do at U23s level and it was fitting that he got the two goals to win the game as he’s done that all season.”
“Our shape as a team was very good and our back four was good. We worked a lot on shape with the players over the previous couple of days. We talked about being disciplined because we know we’ve got a threat with Norman and Amadou Ba, and so it proved.”
And Maher concluded by challenging his players to return for pre-season ready to follow in the footsteps of Dru Yearwood and push for senior recognition with an impressive pre-season campaign when they return to the club in the summer.
“It’s a massive time for young players when they come back from the close season,” he revealed. “Pre-season is a time when they can stake a claim in and around the first-team. The manager will be watching and they’ve got to come back fit and raring to go. Hopefully this sends them off with a buzz; knowing that they’ve got to rest but then work hard and come back flying, and try to force the manager’s hand.”