After the Stevenage Under-18s suffered defeat in the FA Youth Cup last night at Wigan, Academy Manager Robbie O’Keefe couldn’t hide his frustration with his side's performance.
Speaking after the game, which finished 3-1, he told us, “I’m very disappointed. I’m disappointed in how we played and how we approached the game. We made lots of good chances to score at 0-0. We’ve then made two individual mistakes, which are unfortunate, to get us 2-0 down and we never really recovered from that. If I’m honest we didn’t start right, we had to work too hard on the boys to get them where we needed them to be and that’s a really big disappointment for me.
“It’s difficult with young kids as we don’t want to be critical of them, but they have to do better. They have to be better in how they approach the game as in matches like this they need a different type of mentality to get them over the line. You can have all the ability in the world but if you’ve not got that heartbeat behind you then you’re not going to push on. We didn’t do that tonight and we got found out by a very good side.
“We had great chances early on. Andronicos (Georgiou) dragged one wide, Matty Smyth had that header from a great free-kick from Kerrsy, plus Louis Yamfam had one which the keeper turned away brilliantly. And that was all at 0-0. They’re big moments in the game and then we got unlocked by two mistakes and it t was uphill from there.
“I think we chased it after that. We didn’t play like us, we didn’t get (Michael) Cregan in the game like we can do with shorter passing. From there is became very difficult. We did struggle and we need to be better. And that’s everyone – staff, me, players – we just need to be better to take us to that next level, but we’ll get there.”
After going 3-0 down, Stevenage did show some character in the second half to pull one back from Luke Slater and then continue to push forward chasing more.
On this Robbie said, “Sometimes it’s easy to play well and have freedom when you’re losing. It’s easy to take risks when you’re 2-0 down and I think that can mask it. Where were those moments of risk taking in the final third at 0-0? When you’re chasing you do tend to see your game open up more. Listen, credit to us, we got ourselves back in the game after a horrendous mistake at the start of the second half. We hadn’t even sat down 10 seconds in and they scored. We spent all half-time talking about the next goal and within seconds they’ve scored it with a silly penalty.
“We’ve got back in it with a great strike from Luke Slater but it wasn’t enough. Wigan are a good side and you can see why they’ve gone so long undefeated without conceding a goal. We had some great chances and I thought there were some good parts to our play which we can’t ignore either. But for the standards we set at the Academy, that wasn’t enough.
“For me personally the biggest thing I’ve got out of this is knowing that our boys still have a long way to go, they’ve still got to develop a really strong personality that says ‘I’m going to be a footballer’.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the Under-18s season and the objective now is to secure a top six position in the Youth Alliance South-East division and a place in Merit League 1, which pits the best of the South-East division against the best of the South-West. Stevenage currently occupy that sixth place with a superior goal-difference and a game in hand.
Robbie said, “We’ve got to get in there and anything less than that would be a massive, massive failure for the club. We’ll find out the characters now because they’re out of the FA Youth Cup. It can motivate some and break others. I’ve seen some players break when they’re out of the cup and it’s their second year and there’s nothing too much to play for. But last year it didn’t, we went out to Everton and then went on a massively long unbeaten run so we hope we have the characters there to do the same and onto the top six.”