The FA Youth Cup is the pinnacle for most young players in the country. We were looking forward to it for some time and couldn’t have gone into the game much better after beating Arsenal 4-1.
We travelled across to Cardiff on Monday afternoon after having a light training session in the morning, working on set pieces and a few last minute details. The journey wasn’t too bad and we arrived at our hotel around 5pm. We chilled out for a couple of hours before eating dinner together which nutrition wise, gave us everything we’d need for the game the next day.
We were lucky that the night of our stay was also the night of the Man Utd v Arsenal game, so we all stayed downstairs and watched the game together. I say lucky as it gave us all something to do to keep our minds off our game and to also stop us from getting bored. We were off to bed straight after and I think most of the lads had a good night’s sleep.
The day of a Youth Cup game is always tricky as we are not use to playing at night so we don’t really have a routine for the day. We have to trust the coaches in what they plan for us as they are much more experienced on what we need to do. We began the day with breakfast at 9am, before going for a short walk around the local village. It was good to get out the hotel and get some fresh air.
Upon returning to the hotel we had a short pool session with S&C coach Mike Lawe, which consisted of a lot of dynamic stretching with nothing too strenuous. It was then time for lunch, before the starting 11 went back to their rooms to chill out and start thinking on the game, whilst the non-starters went for a walk with the staff around Celtic Manor.
The hours between lunch and the pre-match meal were the most important hours of the trip in terms of preparation. We had to be sure to do our own thing and not to disrupt anyone else, as everyone prepares in different ways. Some people will be full of energy and quite loud, whilst others prefer to read or watch some TV. I ended up having a sleep before listening to music and then having a shower.
Our pre-match meal was then at 4pm, which was food like cereal, toast and sandwiches. We had a short meeting before clearing our rooms and heading for the game!
The nerves really started to kick in on our way to the game. I usually don’t get nervous until the pre-match talk, but as it being such a big game, I had allowed my mind to start thinking about it too early. We got to the stadium, dumped our bags in the changing rooms and then headed down the tunnel to check the pitch.
The game itself started off quite edgy as you’d expect with both teams making a few mistakes. Both teams were nervous and from our point of view, in the first 10-15 minutes, we were doing things that we haven’t done all season. We were all relieved when Silv’s put us 1-0 up mid-way through the first half, as it settled us and gave us a bit of confidence to pass the ball round a bit more. It was a pretty even first half as Cardiff had some good chances to equalise, but just before half time Sekajja put us 2-0 up.
It was a great time to score as it allowed us to go into half time with a bit more protection. Not too much was said at half time as we felt we had done well barring the nervous opening 20 minutes. We warned each other that Cardiff would come at us at the start of the second half, so we knew we had to be switched on to counter it.
And counter it we did! Wynts put us 3-0 up five minutes into the half and there was no real come back from then. We held on to our lead and pleasingly came away with a clean sheet. Fair play to Cardiff though, they hadn’t played a game in 3 weeks because of the snow, and did give it a real go.
We were all delighted in the changing room afterwards, and the feeling of relief was huge. From last year’s experience, I think the further in the competition you go the less scary and nervous it becomes. It’s always the first game of the competition that has a big build up, and carries an air mystery.
The only downer on the night for me was having to come off with 20 minutes to go with a slight hamstring strain. I have been injury free all season and have felt really happy with where my bodies at, so for me to have to go off in the biggest game so far was disappointing. I actually sustained the injury after 20 minutes into the game. I clattered their forward, and just overstretched as I stuck my leg out.
I didn’t think I did anything at the time, but as the half went on the pain in the area increased. From the hamstring injuries I had last season I knew exactly what it was, but I thought I could get through the game and then worry about treating it after. Half-time did me no favours as my body temperature decreased and the muscle stiffened up.
Half way through the second period I went down to let our Physio Jordan Reece give me some treatment, thinking I’d be alright. I thought he would be able to just give it a rub to loosen it up a bit so I could carry on until the end. He wanted me to come off straight away but with it being such a big game I wanted to stay on and help the lads.
I played on another 5 minutes before Gary brought me off. With the score at 3-0 he said there was no point in making it worse. At the time I was gutted to come off and tried to stay on, but looking back I know it was the right decision to make.
An injury that could take a few days to recover from could have turned into 3-4 weeks if I had torn it. I’m back in training already and hopefully its okay. We don’t get a huge amount of time off over Christmas anyway, but I will make sure I go in and work in the gym to strengthen it as much as I can before our next game.
We couldn’t have asked for a better draw in the next round, away to Liverpool at Anfield. It is going to be a fantastic experience to be able to play in such a historic stadium which holds so much tradition and memories.
We don’t fear Liverpool one bit. We have seen videos of them and firmly believe we can progress in the competition. As long as the occasion doesn’t overawe us, and we start more relaxed than the last game, I think we have a fantastic chance.
I’m really starting to enjoy my football again. I had a really rough time last season with injuries which kept holding me back time and time again. Honestly, even when I was training I was playing with a strapping or under some sort of discomfort. I don’t think I was ever really pain free and obviously that had a damaging affect on my performances.
I think it’s had a positive effect on my performances a bit that I’m enjoying my football more now, as the last month and a half or so have probably been my best since I have been a youth team player. I think it’s because I have improved my confidence and starting to believe in myself a bit more.
I know I still need to believe in myself a lot more and increase the confidence further, but from where it was at last year compared to where it is now is very different. We work with psychologists and team building companies and I’ve been doing some one on one work with him about self belief and having confidence and I think it has helped me.
It’s nice to have that buzz back and to be able to be able to have that bit of excitement back about going into training and doing what I love. It was a chore last season, I felt I had very little to look forward to. I can actually see a bit of myself in some of the first years in terms of what I felt like last season. Without a doubt I will try to pass on my experiences to them to try and help them out.
Decision time for us second year scholar’s is obviously not too far away now as we head towards the final half of the season. I’m just really concentrating now on trying to take the pressure of it away and have a ‘what’s meant to be will be’. If it is to be my last few months at the Club, then I’m going to enjoy them; if it’s the beginning of something then great, I want to take the enjoyment with me into the future and keep it with me to progress further.
In terms of the calendar year it has been an up and down one for me personally and the Club as a whole. I’m looking forward to the end of 2010 and cracking on with all the challenges the New Year brings. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope that 2011 is a fantastic year for you.