After overseeing our U18s’ 3-1 victory over Watford, Ryan Laight expressed his delight at the young Reds’ dominance of the encounter – despite fielding several players from lower age groups.
Emmaisa Nzondo’s goal before the break, along with second half strikes from Luke Alker and Mbogba Malachi, guided the Professional Development League North champions to three more points on the final day of the regulation season.
“I thought we were good value for the win,” asserted Laight. “We started the first half really well, we looked comfortable on the ball and caused Watford some problems. Although we scored late on in the half, I think we could’ve nicked a couple more.”
Despite a poor first half, the hosts grew into the game and grabbed an opportunistic equaliser with around quarter of an hour to play.
However, their joy was short lived, as Barnsley’s Alker provided a sucker punch just moments after the restart before fellow debutant Malachi sealed an impressive win.
“In the second half, Watford changed shape and put us under a bit of pressure,” continued Laight. “When they got the equaliser, we could’ve sunk, but a moment of brilliance in the box from Luke Alker put us back in the lead and we kicked on from there. It took a bit of pressure off the group which allowed us to get a foothold back in the game.”
Our U18s’ season will conclude with an exciting play-off campaign, where they will face either Cardiff City or Millwall in a one-legged semi-final in South Yorkshire.
The young Reds’ impressive term, which has included an unbeaten home record and a record-breaking points tally for the club’s academy, has the potential of being even more spectacular, and Laight insists it’s about preparing right for the end-of-season finale.
“We must keep the intensity up and carry the momentum into the play-offs,” he stated. “The lads are playing excellently at the moment, and I’m sure they’ll not fear anybody that they come up against. We need to ensure that we prepare well from now until the first play-off game to give ourselves the best possible chance of succeeding.”
Youth Development Phase Coach, Mark Tinker was next to share his thoughts on the victory, highlighting the importance of the academy’s strength in depth.
“Our academy is all about development,” he asserted. “We aim to choose the right moments to expose players to different challenges and the game at Watford was one of them.
“It’s proved that we’re doing a great job at producing players and putting them in challenging positions to assist their development.”
Seven U16s, an U15 and an U14 were all involved in Barnsley’s matchday squad, something Tinker sees as a reward for their hard work over the course of the season.
“It’s a great day for the academy as a whole,” he smiled. “To be heading back as points record holders is an amazing feeling, and I’m so proud of the lads.
“Every single player that’s been put into the U18s this season has done well and they’ve relished their opportunities. We saw some very good individual performances from both the younger players and the more senior ones in the squad. I’m delighted.”