Age is no barrier at Maine Road
Wed 18th January 2017 | Maine Road | By Ian Templeman
Maine Road manager Chris Hirst says consistency is now the key for his young side, as they shape up for the run in to the end of the season.
Road sit in a comfortable mid-table spot, and it's a position that is all the more impressive considering the youthful average age of the first team squad.
The Maine Road policy of bringing youngsters through the ranks in to the first team is well established, but this season, Chris started the campaign with an even younger squad than usual.
"We do like to pull youngsters in as soon as we can, and we brought the young players in during the off season, before the first team came back and had open trials", explained Chris.
"We brought in six from last year's under 16 team to get them involved, and we'd seen a few of them playing in a local cup final down the road so we invited them in and they did very well.
"Then we played them in a couple of reserve games in pre-season and they excelled in that, so two of them went straight into the first game of the season in the FA Cup".
In the first few weeks of the season the newly shaped squad began well, but by the end of September some inconsistency had begun to set in, although Chris says that injuries as well as inexperience played a part in the erratic run of results.
"There was a spell where we had something like four wins four losses, four wins four losses, but that did coincide with us missing a number of players", said Chris.
"So the players who were available were playing Saturday - Monday or Saturday - Tuesday and they were getting leggy, and that was when we started to pick up even more injuries.
"A young team, coupled with the fact you do get injuries, all plays a part in having inconsistent results.
"As it turned out, we then started putting out an even younger team, and I remember we played Barnoldswick Town and we had a 16 year old and an 18 year old at centre half, but we won that game, and it proves that what we do works for us.
"What happens with young players, though, is that they will do well for a bit, and then go off a bit, so when that happens they will come out of the team and go into the reserves for a bit before coming back in.
"The reserves are just as important as the first team to us. I think there was only player in the team against 1874 Northwich on Saturday who didn't come through the reserves and that was Louis Edwards at centre half, all the rest came through the ranks.
"Yes, OK at times they do make mistakes, but you start ironing those out and when they get to 19 or 20 that's when they start getting established".
Ironically, last Saturday Chris's young charges hosted an 1874 Northwich side that had a sprinkling of former players who started their careers by coming through the well established footballing pathway at Brantingham Road.
But Chris believes that the manner in which his side picked up a hard earned point, against a team containing some familiar faces and aiming for promotion, was a good demonstration of how they have progressed.
"Several of the 1874 lads came through the ranks at our club, so it shows that what we do does work", said Chris, "and I'm sure when our lads get to their age they will be just as good as them, if not better.
"The only players over 24 we had were the two centre halves, and we had two 16 year olds, a 17 year old and quite a number of 18 year olds, yet I thought they did very well against a team that is one of the best in the league, and were more experienced and a bit stronger.
"Our defence could have defended better for their goal, but Tom Bailey got through one on one with the keeper and did what he does, he's probably one of the best finishers in the league.
"We got our little bit of luck with our goal but I thought we deserved a point. I thought first half we caught them on the counter attack at times, but in the second half we were under the cosh a bit at times. But they stuck together and came through to get a point".
As far as the rest of the season is concerned, Chris is clear about the targets he has set his squad.
"We finished 12th last year on 55 points, and we want to beat that this season", he said.
"The aim is to get to 55 points as quick as we can, and then start looking ahead to next season and set out targets for next year.
"We proved on Saturday we can take points off the top teams, and if we can get into a finishing position around 8th, 9th or 10th place, that would represent a good season for where we are at the minute".