Academy Manager Gregg Broughton blogs on the 2015-16 season
On Wednesday our Under-18s will face Sunderland in the FA Youth Cup, which will be a huge test against a very competent side who were excellent against Mansfield in the previous round.
From watching them, we know they are a very good attacking force who possess a significant goal threat. It is our responsibility to nullify that, and we've done our homework to produce a game-plan which we're looking forward to putting into action.
Like us, they have a group of players who are regularly involved in the Under-21s, so they don't have always have their strongest Under-18s team available on Saturdays. However, they will be full-strength for this one and we're ready for a very competitive match.
The fact the first-year scholars of our group played in the Hospital Cup at Portman Road last season will be good preparation for going somewhere like the Stadium of Light. Equally, nine of the likely starting XI have started games at U21s level, so those experiences set the game up nicely.
It won't be new to them, and that's important. The U18s have had a couple of long trips already this season with games at Brighton and Swansea, so that's another element which they are now used to.
There won't be anyone in the group that it's foreign to. The players understand the FA Youth Cup represents an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Club's recent success in the competition, so it's a game everyone is looking forward to in order to hopefully set up a tie away to Middlesbrough in the next round.
Speaking of Middlesbrough, we were very pleased with the performance of our Under-21s as they drew 1-1 away to them last week.
The boys acquitted themselves superbly, and we felt we were very unlucky to go into half-time 1-0 down despite having a player sent off after 15 minutes. It was the right decision to give the red card, but we continued to create a number of chances leading up to the interval.
In the second half, it was slightly more one-sided as Middlesbrough began to take control, but we did very well to ensure we stayed in the contest. That allowed us to equalise late on through Ray Grant, with a goal which was taken fantastically well to top off an excellent performance from him in midfield.
It showed the spirit in the group, and also highlighted how the coaches had put together a very good game-plan immediately after going down to ten men. The information going onto the pitch was very clear with the tactical reasoning behind keeping two strikers on the pitch, which we chose to do in order to maintain an attacking threat.
The response of the team as a whole was extremely pleasing, particularly given the age of the squad and that it came against a side who had given us a very hard game at Colney before Christmas. With nine games to go, we know what we have to get in terms of the points required to stay in the division, which is one of the aims of the squad.
Over the past few weeks, we have concluded deals to bring Arinse Uade and Diallang Jaiyesimi to the Academy on a full-time basis following successful trials.
That is testament to what they showed during the trial period, but also demonstrates the work our scouting team does to bring people out of non-league football. With Arinse, his most recent Club was Ilkeston, although we were previously aware of him from his time at Arsenal.
He's not only done well to fit into the group, but has also trained very regularly with the first team, which is great for him.
Meanwhile, Diallang hadn't been at an Academy before, so he was identified through us watching around 150 FA Youth Cup games - starting in the preliminary round.
From all of those matches we identified two players, with Diallang being one of those. We were delighted with how he did once he was here on trial, and Dulwich Hamlet were excellent to deal with throughout the process.
They gave us the length of time needed to make an assessment, because it's harder to make a quick decision when you don't have an extensive history on a player. We had to try to build up as big a picture as possible.
You've got to get it right because you're talking about turning a young man's life upside down, and we're delighted to now have him here as a Norwich City player.
Looking at our young players who are out on loan, Remi Matthews recently returned from a spell at Burton Albion where he started the season really well.
They then decided to put their experienced goalkeeper back in, with Remi's cause not helped by how well Burton have done this year. It's the right decision for him to come back to the Club for a spell with our first team goalkeepers, which has allowed Jake Kean to go out to Colchester United.
Remi will now play some games in the Under-21s, and I thought he was excellent in both his attitude and performance against Middlesbrough. He produced two superb saves in the final minutes to help preserve a point for the team, and fitted back in with the squad very naturally.
Elsewhere, Woking have had a phenomenal run in the three months Cameron Norman has been there. They're now on the verge of the play-offs in an extremely competitive division, and Cameron is currently a regular in their team.
He's proven he can do it in senior football at that level, and I'm sure Woking will be very keen to keep him longer than the month he currently has left there. His progress comes as no surprise to us because we felt he deserved his loan opportunity.
To have that group - including Carlton Morris, Harry Toffolo, Jacob Murphy and Josh Murphy - playing regularly and making a real impact at a good level is fantastic. Earlier in the season, we discussed how the average age for establishing yourself in a Premier League team is just below 24, and a great example of that in action is Declan Rudd.
He's had to be patient and take in loan experiences before being given a regular first team opportunity. Hopefully those coming through the Academy will see that, and understand what we mean when we tell them that it's a long journey.