Skip to main content Skip to site footer


12 May 2023



12 May 2023

Ahead of our U18s’ Professional Development League play-off semi-final against Millwall on Saturday, Jonathan Bland insists confidence is high within the squad.

The skipper believes his side’s tremendous home record could prove to be decisive as the young Reds aim to gain every advantage in this one-legged affair.

“We’re confident in our abilities – we always have been throughout the year,” asserted Bland. “The lads up top are ridiculous with the amount of goals they score.

“We know we’re going to score one at least every game, really. We just need to make sure that we’re tight at the back, then that’s the game.

“What we spoke about all year – every home game – is that we don’t lose. Even if we’re backs against the walls a couple of times, just dig in – we know we’re going to score. 

“It’s just about digging in and making sure we have that unbeaten home record.”

Our U18s have been imperious all season, playing an exciting brand of attacking football that has swept aside their peers with devastating effect.

They have pretty much picked up from where they left off last term – by reaching the play-offs, and this time they are keen to put the heartache of their semi-final exit behind them by going all the way this time.

“I’m a first year, but I got the luxury of playing in a couple of games towards the end of last season when we were going for that play-off push, and there was a real sense this year – from the second years, especially, who drove it – that we’ve got to do one better,” continued Bland.

“We’ll do that again next year. When I go into it as a second year, I’ll drive the first years and say that I want to go back-to-back, and I want to go and win the play-offs. It’s just keeping the levels high and improving every year.”

It’s that kind of mentality that makes Bland the ideal candidate to captain his side. Despite still being just 17 years old, the former West Bromwich Albion academy product has shown incredible maturity this season by playing in an unfamiliar central defensive role.

This, he feels, has given him a better understanding of the game and what is required from him when he features in his more natural central midfield position.

“Seeing it from a deeper position, it makes me think about the communication I pass on and what the people in front of me need as a defender,” discussed our Academy Player of the Season.

“Flipping it, what the centre-backs need from me when I’m playing in midfield, like an option in midfield. It just gives you a different dimension of looking at the game.

“On a personal note, I just want to be playing, in all honesty. The moment I step on the pitch, that’s all I want to be doing – whether that’s centre-back or central midfield, or whether Nicky needs me at right back; I’ll play anywhere. 

“As long as I get minutes under my belt, I’m alright.”

In the latter stages of the campaign, our young midfielder also added some timely goals to his outstanding performances, finding the net four times at U18s level and once for Tom Harban’s U21s.

It’s a good trait to have, particularly within this set-up where all of his teammates are capable of scoring.

“It’s something that I haven’t really done over my years, to be honest, so I’m glad that I got myself into a goal scoring run,” smiled Bland. “It’s been a big thing that Nicky has been speaking to me about this year – getting myself in the box more and midfielders getting themselves in the box more.

“I think that’s why they’ve scored so many goals this season. Our attackers score a lot, and we keep getting goals from midfield and from wing-backs and defence. Everyone in the team is chipping in with goals.”

You can watch our young Reds in action at Oakwell on Saturday 13 May as they take on Millwall in the Professional Development League play-off semi-final. Kick-off is at 11:45am, with entry via the DX West Stand only.

Advertisement block

iFollow Next Match Tickets Account