Our youngsters won the Under-18 Premier League southern title at the weekend for a fourth year running and will now take on Manchester United, the northern section winners, for a chance to defend their national title.
Jody Morris’s side have barely put a foot wrong this term, winning their opening seven matches before their only defeat of the season in all competitions so far, a 4-0 reverse at Southampton in October. Since then, they have picked up 32 of a possible 36 points to be crowned southern champions again with two games to spare.
A 5-1 victory at West Ham, our 15th consecutive win, sealed the necessary points needed and Morris praised another impressive performance from his side.
‘We were electric in the first half,’ he reflected after the game. ‘I thought we played some great stuff, lovely passages of play and interchanging but also really good off the ball as well. We said to the players at half-time that if we could get anywhere near that level in the second half, it should be a decent score.
‘It was a little disappointing to concede because I didn’t think it was a foul at all for their free-kick but overall it was a really good performance, especially in the first half. There were some great individual performances but as a collective I thought we were great.’
The manager also paid tribute to the consistently high levels of performance achieved by his players, claiming that their willingness to improve was a major factor in driving standards higher and higher. The Blues have more points, more wins and more clean sheets than last term, when they finished 11 points clear of Arsenal.
‘I’m extremely pleased and proud,’ Morris continued. ‘The boys have grown as the season has gone on, not only improving individually but getting better playing in different formations and with different game plans. The run we’re currently on of 15 wins in a row is just outstanding but it’s testament to the levels we’ve been consistently hitting.
‘Although the lads constantly have myself and Ed [Brand, Under-18s assistant] trying to motivate, demand and test them, they’re also incredibly demanding of themselves. I think they like the fact we let them know little milestones or records that they’re breaking, or getting close to breaking, and they like to chase that which is a good winning mentality to have.
‘I always feel the best teams win the leagues. In a cup competition, anything can happen and you can always get knocked out with an off day, but the league is the measure of you as a team in that season. Arsenal and Southampton have been great in the southern league this season, especially after the first couple of games, so it shows the level we’ve played at for us to win the title with two games to spare. The boys thoroughly deserve it and all the accolades that will come with it.’
Our youth team now have two of an available four trophies safely secured, this league title following the Under-18 Premier League Cup that was lifted at Cobham last month after a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the final. We will find out our FA Youth Cup final opponents tonight after the conclusion of Arsenal’s semi-final with Blackpool at the Emirates, while the national final against United will likely be pencilled in for early May given a hectic fixture schedule over the coming weeks.
Such a busy period will naturally bring challenges but Morris believes our Academy players are ready for the tests to come, citing their physicality and mental strength as particularly important attributes.
‘It has already been a busy couple of weeks and that’s going to continue now with another game on Wednesday [against Tottenham in the league] before the Under-19s travel to Switzerland for the UEFA Youth League semi-finals,’ he added.
‘They could have two games in four days and then we have the Youth Cup final so it will be a challenge physically but that’s why you do all your hard work throughout the season. If you want to be a team that wins multiple trophies, you have to put your bodies on the line but we’ve also shown this season that mentally we can deal with anything that’s thrown at us.’