A young Under-18s side featuring six Under-16 players was praised for demonstrating maturity and composure to come from behind three times and defeat Bristol City 4-3 on Saturday.
With the first-team squad facing two fixtures in three days, the Under-23s fielded a number of Under-18s players for Friday’s match against Coventry City and this meant an opportunity for members of the Under-16s to step up on Saturday.
“It’s an exciting time for us really, as the Academy boys are always within touching distance of the next level and are always being watched, hence the promotion of players,” said Under-18 Assistant Coach Tom Hart.
“It’s a knock-on effect with the preparation for the Tranmere and Bournemouth games that the ages below have a chance to step up, but a lot of them have warranted it.
“It’s amazing having the opportunity where two of our coaches from the Academy are now with the first team, so they obviously know our young players really well and can talk to the new Head Coach and Assistant Coach and give them feedback on what players we have. They’re always showing an interest in our players and our Under-23s go and train with them on a daily basis.”
The Under-18s had to play in difficult conditions on Saturday morning but adapted well in the second half to deal with them.
After conceding the first goal against the run of play, the young Hornets were level on 20 minutes when Tom Horsewood played in Max Thompson with a clever backheel and the forward took his shot early.
Bristol City soon regained their advantage, helped by the weather, but Horsewood turned scorer to bring the Hornets level again after an excellent ball in behind by Ryan Maclean.
When the visitors scored their third goal and appeared to be going into half-time with the lead, a trialist popped up to convert from a corner and make it 3-3 after Under-16 Bosun Lawal’s strong header was saved.
“It was a really strange half, we dominated the ball and looked pretty secure defensively,” said Hart. “It doesn’t sound like it, conceding three goals, but there were two fluke goals and one we could do better with. But we were always an attacking threat too.”
Having not led for a minute in the first half, the home team gained the advantage quickly in the second and kept it. Just the one goal was scored, and it was Horsewood again who finished calmly after timing his run to perfection to meet a Forde pass.
“In the second half we spoke about the conditions and dealing with them, limiting longer passes and playing through our midfield, and we came out second half and scored a really good goal quickly,” said Hart.
“We looked in real control, we limited their chances and had other opportunities to kill the game off ourselves. They showed good character to keep going and stick to the game plan.
“When we conceded goals against the run of play it could have been the case that players dropped their heads and started to come away from our game plan, but it was so pleasing they stuck to it.”
HORNETS: White (GK), Andrews (Hall 62), Maclean, Sankoh (Hunter 80), Lawal, Trialist, Harrison, Horsewood, Thompson, Forde, Manning (Muwonge 54).