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Interviews

TOM HARBAN REFLECTS ON POSITIVE U21S CAMPAIGN

17 May 2024

Interviews

TOM HARBAN REFLECTS ON POSITIVE U21S CAMPAIGN

17 May 2024

Following the conclusion of the Professional Development League season, U21s coach Tom Harban praised his side for the way they have applied themselves over the course of the campaign.

The young Reds narrowly missed out on a play-off spot – finish just one point outside the top two – but managed to register a record points total for this age group with 54.

“For the majority of the season, we’ve been really consistent in what we do,” insisted Harban. “We’re competing against the likes of Sheffield United and Birmingham City; they’ve got good footballers within their systems.

“It’s unfortunate to miss out by a point, but when we play against these teams, we compete, which I think is the main thing.

“The objective for next season with the group that we have is to try and push even more to try and get in the play-offs for the first time for the under 21s. But it’s been really pleasing in terms of the points total and the amount of goals we’ve scored, the goal difference we’ve got and the amount of wins, so it’s really positive.”

Our U21s celebrate a goal at Millwall

There has been gradual progression throughout the age groups, most notably at U18s level as Nicky Eaden’s crop have qualified for the play-offs for the third successive year.

Harban believes the continued development is only positive and highlighted that there has been great success throughout the academy too.

“In the last few years, really, we got into the play-offs for the first time with the under 18s three years ago, and we’ve just maintained and kicked on, won the lot last year with Nicky’s team,” he continued.

“This year with the under 21s, we obviously missed out on the play-offs by one point, but even throughout the age groups there has been progress.

Aaron Atkinson in action at Wigan U21s

“The under 11s went to Manchester City last week and finished fifth in a tournament full of massive European clubs like Juventus and Feyenoord, so I think as an academy, we do well and we’re producing good footballers; it’s just down to us and the club to give them opportunities to show their abilities on a bigger stage.

“The club has a way of playing, and the messaging towards the players is the same throughout – from the first team right down through all the academy in terms of the terminology we use.

“There’s a lot of repetition in what we do and a lot of focus based on what we do with and without the ball, which leads to really consistent performances – which I think we’ve had for the majority of the season.

“But that’s top to bottom in the club. The club philosophy helps to keep it quite simple and basic for the players to understand their roles and responsibilities in the team, then it’s up to them to go and deliver it.”

Josiah Dyer challenges for a ball against Cardiff City U21s

Our U21s rounded off their season with a routine 2-0 victory over Burnley at Oakwell on Tuesday afternoon, with Fabio Jalo and Theo Chapman amongst the goals.

That made it seven games unbeaten for Harban’s youngsters, who ended the campaign by picking up 22 points from a possible 30 available.

“The last few games and few weeks have been great,” he praised. “For the majority of the season, the lads have been fantastic in terms of how they’ve worked – performance-wise, we’ve had a couple that you think have probably not been at the levels you’d expect but, on the whole, I think it’s been a really positive season for the lads in terms of, not just playing in the under 21s, but training and being around the first team, which is the main objective for us.

“So, I’m really pleased with what we’ve done in the last nine months or so.

“There has been a real desire to not concede goals; in the last three or four games, we’ve had clean sheets, which has been pleasing. Attacking-wise, we’ve scored loads of goals and created loads of opportunities, so I think it’s just been a collective of everyone working as a collective to try and score goals, not concede goals and win games of football.”


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