Academy Manager Gregg Broughton blogs on the 2015-16 seasonWednesday’s great 1-0 win over Villarreal for our Under-21s showed several different things.
We have one group of players now, from the Under-16s right through to the Under-21s, rather than three separate groups, which is how it is at most football clubs. It means that players can move fairly seamlessly between those groups, and it doesn’t affect team performance.
When we made a decision to go young in the International Cup, we felt that these players could step up. The PSV game was a step too far, but on reflection when you look at their players, they were almost a first-team squad.
Against Villarreal, the players stepped up when given the opportunity and I think they thoroughly deserved the result.
Dmitri Halajko has done a great job. The level of trust he puts in his players is really shining through, and in every game he’s growing into the role. It’s really important to mention the support Frankie McAvoy gave him before, during and after the game too. To have a first-team member of staff on the bench at home is something that’s unique to his football club.
Glenn Middleton, aged just 15, started the match. We first saw Glenn at the age of 12 for Northampton Town. He was the first youth player that Norwich City had ever paid compensation for from another club.
He’s incredibly mature socially; he’s fitted into Wymondham College for his education very well. He has a great support network in terms of his family – his parents and his younger sister travel every week from Northampton to watch him play.
He’s broken into the Scotland squad during his time here and he played up two age-groups last summer, which gave him great exposure to that level of football.
We decided he was going to be involved in the game on Monday, but the Premier League said he was too young to play. Then we reflected on that and thought that couldn’t be right, because last year Reece Oxford captained West Ham’s Under-21s at the age of 15.
At 3.30pm on Wednesday, we got the call to say Glenn could play – but because we were told he couldn’t play, the night before we’d arranged for him to feature in an Under-16/17s against Gorleston. He played 45 minutes and scored a hat-trick inside the first ten minutes!
We spoke to him and he felt fresh and he wanted to start, and we had faith in him to put in a performance like he did.
The youngest players did really well on Wednesday, they’ve been lauded and rightly so, but what I think sometimes goes unsung is the senior backbone of the team.
There were three in particular that I want to highlight from the other night: I thought Ben Killip made two crucial saves at crucial times, and his performances this season have been exceptional.
Playing in a new position for him, but one that he came to us and asked to play in, was Cameron Norman at centre-back. I thought he responded magnificently and really led the team very well.
The third player was Ray Grant, who I thought put in his best performance in a Norwich Under-21s shirt. When we played PSV, he was the one player that their coaches highlighted to us after the game. He was the exceptional performer on the pitch.
On Tuesday, Alex Neil stayed until late and did a lengthy CPD (Continuing Professional Development) session with every one of the coaches in the Academy.
We matched philosophies and I have to go on record and thank Alex.
Not only did he not have to do that, but to come out and do it so candidly and so honestly, I thought what it made every member of staff feel was part of that team.
For our Under-18s, against Swansea and Leicester our performances were exceptional, but we got one point from the two games.
Our last two performances werent quite at that level, but we won both matches! The lads have shown character, a competitive edge and a desire to win.
We have a big promotion for Kick It Out at this weekend’s games for the Under-16s and Under-18s against Tottenham. We’ve got Spurs in three age-groups in seven days at the top end of the Academy.
If I could just finish by appealing to as many spectators as possible – if you weren’t able to come to the Villarreal game, watch the highlights and if you like what you see, come along to the Tottenham Under-21s game at Carrow Road next Thursday. We want to beat 10,000 again, like we did last year in that fixture.