It’s been a few weeks since I have last blogged and in that time there have been some memorable performances and some not. After we knocked out Cardiff in round three of the FA Youth Cup, we received a mouth watering tie away at Liverpool. The excitement and the buzz amongst the boys was electric in the build up to the game.
FA Youth Cup: Liverpool v Crystal Palace
We left the training ground after a light session on Friday 7th January and travelled by coach to a hotel just outside Liverpool to shorten the journey.
After arriving at the hotel we had a quick look around before going for a swim with Niall Clarke (Academy Fitness Coach). After a quick session in the pool it was back to our rooms for a quick shower then down for dinner. Once dinner was finished we all went into a side room to discuss the game the next day, and the tactics we would use. Gary Issott told us what he thought about Liverpool and what the best way to get a result would be. Once the meeting was concluded it was back to our rooms with lights out for half ten.
I woke up the next morning after a good sleep at about half past eight with breakfast scheduled for nine. Once breakfast was eaten we went back to our rooms to pack up our stuff and then got back down in the reception for ten to ten. Once everyone was present we set off for Anfield.
We arrived at the ground at exactly half past 10. We got off the bus and made our way through the corridor to the changing rooms. We had seen this walk so many times before on television and for us to be walking past the interview areas was quite surreal. Once we had put our stuff down in the changing room, all the boys including myself went out to inspect the pitch and have a look at the stadium. After stepping out of the tunnel we were greeted by a sea of red seats. It was breath taking and something that we can all hold in our memories forever.
It is a great stadium, but I was here to win a football match not to admire the arena in which it was played. My main concern wasn’t really to take loads of photos and videos, I chose just to study the areas in which I thought I would spend most time. Despite it being a huge game, I didn’t want to do anything that I wouldn’t usually do. I had to tell myself it was just another game, and prepare exactly how I have done in previous games. I was quite keen to get back in the dressing room and get myself focused for the task ahead.
Above each of our pegs Gary had organised for us to have our ‘trademarks’ printed on boards above where we were getting changed. In an exercise we had undertaken a little while before with the psychologists, we came up with a word that we thought best described ourselves. Gary had to pick a word, and another member of the team also had to pick a word. After some deliberation as to what the final word would be, we all had our individual boards made up. My word was ‘Solid’. The idea of it is, a confidence boosting one, as every time you see your word it reminds you of your qualities and what you’re all about.
We got changed and Gary then came in and gave us his team talk, as he always does before games. We all then went out for our warm up which was very sharp and it was drilled into us just how big and important this game was, not that we needed reminding. Once the warm up was finished we headed back to the dressing room to collect our thoughts and get our shirts on. Once this was done and everyone was ready, Gary gave his last thoughts and really fired us up to give our best display of the season.
It didn’t quite go according to plan however and after the first twenty minutes we found ourselves on the back foot with a sea of red shirts pouring forward. I don’t even think we got out of our own half for the first 20 minutes. Every time the ball went forward it just came straight back.
However we eventually managed to get a bit of a foot hold in the match and for the rest of the half the game was pretty even. Our best play of the match came not too long before half time.
Charlie Mann got the ball and bowled it out to Kadell Daniel who played a lovely ball into Alex Wynter who sent Jake Caprice racing away down the right hand side. He beat his full back and delivered a great ball across the six yard box for Ibra Sekajja to slot home from a couple of yards out. To go in 1-0 up at half time was fantastic and a great achievement. I think Gary was quite pleased to get us in at half time and told us that we were simply giving them too much space and respect.
After more motivational words from Gary we headed back out onto pitch and knew that if we were going to get a result then we needed play one of the biggest and best halves of our careers so far. We got off to an okay start but the tall forward they brought on at half time changed the game. Despite being under pressure we defended really well with the back four standing firm, with some timely help from Charlie Mann.
However after wave of Liverpool pressure they eventually got their break through after their striker got in between Alex Wynter and Ryan Inniss and fired it into the roof of the net. We then stood firm for the remainder of normal time and took them to extra time. Gary told us all to stay mentally strong and keep our shape. However, after a misunderstanding at a free kick their winger went away down the right and crossed for their striker to head it in the bottom corner.
We battled on bravely and in the closing minutes of extra time we went close through Rhys Williamson-Murrell whose shot just went the wrong side of the post. Almost immediately after that chance their left winger who has since been in the first team squad, got the better of our right back and was put clear on goal. I did my best to get to him, but my out-stretched leg sent him tumbling in the box. I was too tired to even protest but it was ‘stone wall’ as they say. That penalty made it 3-1 and there was no coming back from there.
After the formalities and hand shaking we got back into the dressing room and felt so low. For the second years, it was our last chance of playing in the FA Youth Cup, so it hit us particularly hard.
There were lessons to be learned for all of us, and it was a great experience we had enjoyed. It was a disappointing result but sometimes you gain more from failure than you do from success. We might not appreciate it now, but later on in our football careers, lessons from that day may stand us in good stead.
Moving on from Liverpool, we have since played Ipswich, Southampton, Portsmouth, Norwich, Arsenal and West Ham. After the Liverpool defeat it took us a while to get back into our stride and we consequently lost to Ipswich and Southampton. We turned it around with a win away at Portsmouth and have gone onto to draw up at Norwich; lost at home to Arsenal and then most recently beat West Ham 3-1. We play Charlton this Saturday in search of 3 points over our local rivals which hopefully will take us back to the summit of the league.