Our U18s were involved in an eventful 5-5 draw away at Crewe Alexandra on Saturday in the Professional Development league, dropping points for the first time since November.
Goals from Lloyd Smith, Keegan Hartley, Matty Doyle and Charlie Hickingbottom were all pegged back by the hosts, before the latter’s last gasp finish secured a point for Tom Harban’s side in what was a topsy-turvy affair in Cheshire.
When asked to do the impossible and assess the game for us, Harban exclaimed: “Crazy!
“Crazy game. There were loads of positives. We’ve created so many chances, took our goals really well. On the press, I think we were really good, in terms of our pressing from the front, high press. When they got out, recovery runs.
“But when It comes to stopping crosses and defending the box, we were poor today.”
Despite conceding five goals, our young Reds also scored five goals away from home for consecutive games running, after a 5-0 win at table topping Coventry City last week.
“We identified they were going to be vulnerable down the sides, they’re very expansive when they’re on the ball and I think we caused them no ends of problems,” discussed Harban.
“We spoke to Keegan and Theo about making loads of forward runs and I thought they were excellent in terms of their energy that they gave us getting down the sides, in behind their back line which gave us a lot of joy, caused them a lot of problems and then we worked quite hard on set plays, and we scored a couple of them today which is pleasing.”
Ten goals in two games is no mean feat, and Harban credits the hard work of the lads on the training ground and taking on what he and his staff have fed back.
“All season we’ve been a threat and we’ve created a lot of chances,” he assessed. “We’re just coming to a point now where we’re starting to really capitalise and take a lot of chances, be more clinical.
“I spoke to the forward boys about staying between the posts when we’re in wide areas. That’s where Lloyd gets his goal from, just being inside the goalposts – a bit of a poacher’s goal. So yes, we’ve done a lot of work around it, spoken a lot about it, and we’re seeing the hard work come into fruition a little bit with that now.”
As mentioned, set pieces were a source of joy for the young Reds on Saturday afternoon, with Hickingbottom and Doyle both scoring from dead-ball situations from wide areas.
“We work on them, we work hard on them,” affirmed Harban.
“We try and be creative with them at times but to be fair to Hayden and Ben, the delivery’s been excellent on the set plays so it always gives you a chance of getting on the end of something, and Doyley’s one was a well worked one that we worked on and Charlie, he likes to go and attack the ball and he’s done so well twice which is fair play; he should have had another one.
“I think the one he missed was easier than the two he scored to be fair! But yeah, I’m really pleased with them two.”
Attention is off the league for now for our U18s as they prepare to face Charlton Athletic in the capital next up, in the PDL Cup. The Reds go into that one in good form, having gone unbeaten in their cup campaign so far.
Their opponents however are also competing well in their respective South division, topping the table. The Addicks will have the full respect of Harban and our youngsters ahead of our visit.
“Charlton are flying, they’re top of their league,” insisted our U18s coach. “They’re the top goal scorers between North and South; I think we’re the second highest goal scorers, so it’s going to be really tough.
“But defensively we’ve got to be so much better than what we were against Crewe if we’re going to go down there and have a chance. But if we can sort that side of the game out and be as attacking as we have been in the last couple of games then we’ll give ourselves a chance going down there and hopefully progress to the next round.”