Norwich City Under-23s Head Coach David Wright says he is delighted with his Under-21s side’s performance in their 2-1 defeat at Oxford United on Tuesday.
The U21s went ahead thanks to Shae Hutchinson’s second half goal, before Oxford turned the game around to get their first three points of the EFL Trophy group stage.
Commenting on a resilient performance, in which the young Canaries were pitted against senior League One players, Wright said: "I'm really pleased. I know we’ve come out the wrong end of the result but I asked the players for three things - being brave in possession, being brave out of possession and working their socks off for each other. They did all three, so I can’t ask for anymore than that.
“I’m really proud of every one of them. I thought we were excellent. We’ve come to play against a really good team and had the confidence to play our way.
“The lads were gutted to be so close to getting an excellent result, but I’ve got to keep reminding them that the journey this group is on, and how far we’ve come, is a credit to the boys and how hard we’ve worked.”
The nature of Oxford’s equaliser had spectators scratching their heads, as Cameron Brannagan scored direct from an uncontested drop ball, made possible by a change to the rule for this season.
Wright added: “That’s the first time I’ve come across it and probably the first time Oxford have seen it live. I’m not quite sure about it to be honest, because it’s a drop ball on the edge of our box and we’re not allowed within five yards of it, so straight away there’s an advantage to the opposition.
“Goals change the momentum of games, especially against a senior side like Oxford because they could smell blood.”
Daniel Farke’s first team gained a reputation last season for going the distance and scoring late goals in games, and while there was no such drama for the U21s against Oxford, it took until the 82nd minute for Wright to make his first substitution, which he says is testament to the fitness of the squad.
“We’ve worked really hard,” he said. “Jay Eastoe Smith is in charge of us physically and he does an outstanding job, but the players have really bought into everything we’ve done. I think you can see physically that they’re more than capable of living with seasoned pros all the way to the 90th minute.”
Looking ahead, Wright commented on a desire for the players to get more stadium exposure: “We’re going to try to get more stadium games because it’s a totally different feel from playing at the training ground, especially when it’s nighttime and you’re under the lights.
“The next stage for our U23s is to play in stadiums and they are generally full, especially when you play at Carrow Road every week.
“Portsmouth [in the EFL Trophy] will be great. It’s 12:30pm on a Saturday, so there should be a really good crowd and Portsmouth fans are great. Our fans came here [to Kassam Stadium] tonight and that’s brilliant by them. I’m so thankful for them to come and support the boys. Our fans are excellent with how they support us so much.”