Blues Academy end of term report

I’m really excited at the prospect of working again with the young players that we’ve got in the Football Club.

Steve Spooner
Blues scored goals for fun – twice hitting six goals in a game, as well as netting five times in another two league encounters.

But they have struggled to maintain that kind of impressive form week after week.

Their final game at home to Leeds United 11 days ago was a microcosm of the season as a whole – Blues under-performed in the first period but were much improved after the break, going from 2-1 down to 3-2 up only to be denied victory at the death by a late equaliser from the visitors.

“There have been some times when we’ve been very good and other times when we’ve been very average,” said Spooner, when asked to sum up the campaign which saw his side finish a creditable fifth in the 11-team Under-18 Professional Development League Two (North) division.

“I think the Christmas break came at the wrong time for us because we were building up some real momentum – winning four successive games.

“But when we came back we lost a couple of games to the weather and we struggled to regain that consistency.

“Although, to be honest, the team have done better than I expected them to this season.”

Schoolboys such as Odin Bailey and Charlie Lakin have been a regular feature of the Under-18s this season, whilst other Under-16s have been drip fed into the games towards the closing stages of the campaign.

“I think every one of the Under-16s have featured in the 18s at some point, whether that’s coming off the bench or starting matches, and that’s something we were looking to do, to integrate them into the system,” explained Spooner.

“We also train in the evenings now, on Mondays and Thursdays, with the Under-16s which also helps with that bedding-in process.”

Another major positive has come in the form of first year scholar Ronan Hale – he signed off for the season with an eye-catching volley in the draw with Leeds, his 28th competitive goal of the season.

Hale has excelled to such an extent that he was handed professional terms by the Club as soon as he turned 17.

“One or two have surprised us,” admitted Spooner.

“That’s always nice. You get it most seasons when some haven’t progressed and other ones that have had a real accelerated growth in their learning.

“In my own career, I wasn’t in the team as a first year scholar but I came through to make my debut in the first team at 18.

“That’s the beauty of being an Under-18 coach, there are always surprises and that’s what makes the job so exciting each year.

“You can go in with pre-determined ideas and thoughts about individuals, but they are still growing physically and mentally.

“Sometimes they get that bit of strength that assists them in their technical development.”

Looking at the new recruits that will join the full-time academy ranks in late June, Spooner added: “There are some different characters in there and the core of them have been with us from a young age, so they know the Club and the expectations.

“We’ve also got a few players from Ireland that we’ve signed that will be coming in, so I’m really looking forward to working with those boys.

“They have already come over several times, so they already know the set-up here very well now.

“And we’re still looking to fill the centre-half position with another player.

“Other than that, we’re quite happy with what we’ve got.

“Finances play a part, but the Club have been very supportive and backed us very generously – we’ll have 22 or 23 scholars next season, which is a good amount to work with.

“Let’s hope we can help develop some more prospective First Team players out of that group.”

Spooner also revealed a strange quirk about the Under-18 crop for next season.

“In all my years in football, I don’t think I’ve ever had so many players that are left-footed as I will with next season’s group,” he said.

“It’s unbelievable – 60 or 70 per cent of them will be left-footed, which is very unusual because normally you get an abundance of right-footers and not that many left-footed players.”

The Blues Academy staff and players will only get a short period of downtime during the closed season before the hard work begins again.

“After a few weeks of recuperation, we’ll be looking forward to coming back and starting all over and seeing all the twists and turns of the football season develop,” concluded Spooner.

“I’m really excited at the prospect of working again with the young players that we’ve got in the Football Club, looking to help them progress into the 21s and hopefully into the First Team.”

Come and watch Blues future stars for free this weekend. Blues are holding their traditional end-of-season Academy games at St. Andrew's this weekend. On Saturday, 7 May the Under-18s face Tottenham Hotspur at 11.30am. That game is followed by the Under-16s taking on Spurs at 2.30pm. On Sunday, 8 May the other Academy age groups are in action against Leicester City at St. Andrew's.The schedule is Under-9s, Under-10s 10am kick-off; Under-11s, Under-12s noon kick-off; Under-13s 2pm kick-off; Under-14s 4pm kick-off. Admission is free and refreshment kiosks will be open.