Under-18’s boss Conrad Prendergast knows his side must perform if they are to overcome the challenge of Cambridge United in the FA Youth Cup Third Round on Wednesday evening.
The Young Coasters will finally make the long-awaited journey to Cambridgeshire after the competition was temporarily suspended by the Football Association in December.
Having looked at the opposition’s style of play, Conrad is expecting a different challenge to that of Morecambe and Sunderland in previous rounds. Speaking to afcfylde.co.uk, he said: “It’s going to be a different game completely, especially away from home on a 3G surface. With all the footage that we have seen so far, it’s clear that they play out from the back a lot. In our last game against Sunderland, they came here and played really direct, which suited us, so it’ll be different for the lads.
“In saying that, our preparation doesn’t change too much because we are happy with our game plan. We will be aggressive like we have been all season. We will play on the front foot and get at them.
“We’re the underdogs again – nobody expects us to roll anyone over. We will just go there and do what we are good at, and if that is enough to win the game then brilliant.”
The government imposed guidelines and suspension of the Under-18’s league has meant that the squad haven’t played a competitive fixture since defeating Sunderland in November last year. Conrad believes that recent in-house training games and intense training schedule have helped the players rediscover their rhythm.
“We’ve had to almost give the lads a mini pre-season to get them all up to speed. While we were away from the training ground, we did Zoom calls every day – football sessions, fitness sessions, core sessions; we sent them on runs where they had to get in in a certain time. That meant that they all came back in relatively good shape.
“Because we’ve had so much time in the past few weeks, I’ve been conscious of not overcoaching them and flooding them with too much information. We’ve spoken about the importance of not worrying too much about what they do. The tactical elements are around 20% to 30%, as long as we do everything that we did against Morecambe and Sunderland.
“We played against the first-team recently in a training match and were really pleased with how we did. I think that game has given the players confidence, seeing how we performed and where we are at physically.”
Conrad and his side will be eager to progress into the fourth round with an away tie at Chelsea on offer for the victors. The Under-18’s boss believes a trip to Stamford Bridge would put the icing on the cake and provide the perfect reward for their efforts.
“After what they have achieved so far, getting through to the fourth round and playing against Chelsea would be a massive pat on the back. We aren’t fixating on that though because If we don’t make it through, we will be immensely proud of how far we have come as a group.
“For some of these lads, they will look back in ten years – sat with their mates in the pub – and if they can say, ‘I’ve played at that ground’ or ‘I’ve played against that player there’, that would be massive for them. Even for myself too, if I get to stand in the dugout there – that’s a moment that stays with you.”
Emotions have been high this past week, following the tragic passing of Academy player, Luke Bennett. Conrad spoke of how he and his side want to dedicate this fixture to Luke and his family.
“It’s been a really difficult time for the players and staff. We’ve spoken a lot about the game and how we want to go there and do it for him and his family. It’s going to be a really emotional night for us all, going there without him – we want to do him proud.”