WE learned two main things from our Under-18s’ quite incredible comeback to beat Middlesbrough 5-4 in the FA Youth Cup earlier this month.
We saw the ability of the players to cope mentally with being behind and not to give up the chase, along with the mental determination and grit that’s needed in order to do that.
The other thing that we were really pleased with was how the coaching staff adapted to the game and made the necessary changes to stay in it, both at 4-1 down and 5-4 up. I think Graeme Murty and Alan Neilson deserve a lot of credit for that.
Some of the boys hadn’t trained leading into that game. Joe Crowe and Todd Cantwell had picked up knocks, and neither of them had played against Southampton the previous Saturday. It was case of wrapping them up in cotton wool and getting them on the pitch.
Damien Bowyer and the medical staff in the Academy did a fantastic job in terms of allowing us to get our strongest eleven out on the pitch when we thought we might be one or two short.
We also had great support from the first-team staff and players on the evening. To have Cameron Jerome pulling Benny Ashley-Seal aside at half-time to give him a few tips, and having Russell Martin there as well, just showed the unity of the football club.
Middlesbrough’s staff during the build-up to the game and on the evening were excellent and I’d like to thank for them for the professionalism in both when the game was switched to Carrow Road and the way they reacted on the evening after what must have been a disappointing night for them.
The FA Youth Cup is a competition where you have to charge for tickets. That’s the difference to Under-21s football where we are able to market the games with free admission as we do.
We were delighted to have over 1,000 people there, however. It was the second highest crowd of the competition so far this season, and it’s certainly higher than the crowds we were getting in the fourth and fifth rounds in 2013. Thank you to all of our amazing supporters, you helped make the difference!
If we can get ourselves into the Semi-Final and have a home leg, then hopefully you will respond again as you did in 2013!
Our key message now to the players is that we can’t have a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’, because we’ve got a very tough game against Manchester City and we don’t want people to talk about a fantastic game at Carrow Road without knowing what happened next.
We watched Man City’s game in the last round against Wigan, who put up a great fight on the evening. They went 1-0 up and could have gone on to win, but City won it in extra time.
What they have is players with enormous technical ability and who are physically very capable too. For us now, it’s about ensuring that we are able to match the players physically because we know mentally the boys are strong.
Our target each year is to get to the quarter-finals of the competition. As a Category One football club, you should always strive to do that.
But now we’ve achieved that, we really want to go on and try to win it. I can see the tie being a very similar level to the Everton quarter-final for the team who won it in 2013.
Against a very good Everton Under-18s team, the boys really produced the goods that night. Carlton Morris’ hat-trick took them through, and we will need a similar level of individual and team work to get a result later this month.
On transfer deadline day, we brought another young player into our Under-21s group in the shape of Ebou Adams.
Our scouts flagged him shortly before Christmas and we conducted a number of watches on him over that period, climaxing with myself and Ben Strang (Academy Head of Recruitment) going down to Dartford the week before the transfer window closed.
We saw him put in a very strong performance which underlined all the scouting reports we had received.
Ebou played in a defensive midfield position but he was allowed to break out. We knew he had the athletic ability to go box-to-box as well as the mental concentration to play as a holding midfielder.
We feel his is already capable of going out to play in the Football League in League Two or League One, but our strategy now is to keep him in the group until the end of the season to show him how we do things at Norwich.
When it comes to our recruitment strategy in the Academy, we do have geographic restrictions with young players.
Where a lot of the big football clubs in London or the North West would focus a lot of their recruitment at eight or nine-year-olds and then revisit it at Under-16s, that will never work with us because we have such a small population to work with. When you head north or east of the football club, you’re in the sea quite quickly!
Scott Smith heads our group of local scouts who are very active in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and do a great job identifying potential players aged 7, 8 and 9.
After this we have two aims with recruitment: firstly to be very active from 11s to 14s, which are the age groups we feel we can work very effectively in, both in East Anglia and London.
We then want to supplement that with 16 to 19-year-olds who may have been overlooked by other pro clubs, or have broken through in the non-league game. In the FA Youth Cup, you’d have seen two boys who were bought in by the younger part of that strategy: Glenn Middleton and Timi Odusina.
On Tuesday evening, we took a young Under-21s squad including eight scholars and Under-16s players to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.
In contrast, United fielded an XI with significant international experience – some 100 senior caps between them – including the likes of Memphis Depay and Phil Jones. Manchester United had paid over £40 million in transfer fees for their team, more than the cost of Leicester City’s current starting XI.
That told ultimately in a 7-0 defeat, but we believe the experience of our youngsters sharing a pitch with such established professionals will only serve to benefit the Club in the future. As a group, we learnt more from this experience than we did in the game that we scored seven against Southampton earlier this season.
Everyone was disappointed with the result, especially after our first half performance, but we will grow from the experience.