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28 May 2022



28 May 2022

Following a wonderful season with our U18s, Hayden Pickard spoke of his pride as the young Reds reached the Professional Development League play-offs.

It is the first time any of our academy teams have finished in the top two since the introduction of the Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in 2011, and it was just reward for the numerous incredible performances throughout the campaign.

“It’s a bit of a mixed one because, in one sense we’ve broke record points for the under 18 team – we’re the first team to get to the play-offs and beat some really good teams,” reflected our young full-back.

“But then, in the other sense, the way we’ve lost the play-offs, 2-0 up with 10 minutes to go and then Charlton have obviously scored three in a short time. 

“So, it’s a mixed one; there’s been good things, but there’s also bad things to it.

“When we lost against Hull, most of us thought it was done. But we dug deep and got two big results against Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton, and our spirits were high and we managed to pull through.

“So, I’m proud.”

It was a productive term for Pickard, who registered a fair number of goal contributions amongst his dazzling displays for Tom Harban’s side.

Operating from left wing-back for large portions of the campaign, the youngster was influential as he surged down the flank and delivered cross after cross for his teammates to convert.

“I’ve got a few goals and quite a few assists,” smiled Pickard. “I think I’ve improved defensively, but there’s still more to it – you can always improve on your game, and that’s what I need to keep doing. 

“When I’ve got grass in front of me, that’s when I’m at my best. If the ball is at my feet I can get it and drive, then I’m one-on-one with the full-back and all I need is half a yard to whip the ball in.”

Still only 16 until August, Pickard is the youngest of our first year scholars, but has been playing at this level for two years and certainly doesn’t look out of place.

He was our 20/21 Academy Player of the Season – a crown which he recently handed over to Fabio Jalo, whom he praised for his amazing prowess in front of goal.

“It’s amazing – he is amazing as well,” lauded our youngster. “Although he’s small, I could stick one up and he’ll go and head it. It’s just good knowing he can score from anywhere.

“If I do a through ball and it’s a bit off, there’s an 80% chance that he’ll still get there – touch, bang, back of the net. 

“I think him and Josiah is a good mix because Fabio is one who can run in behind and Josiah is a big frame, 6’3, which makes my job a lot easier.”

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