Academy Manager Robbie O’Keefe was a pleased man after his Stevenage Under-18s booked their place in the FA Youth Cup 3rd round with a 4-2 penalty win at Cambridge United last night, but was less impressed with his side’s performance.
He told us, “A win’s a win, but we’re very unhappy with how we played if we’re honest. We never really got going and we never really played like us at any point during the game.
"I didn’t think we defended or attacked with any intensity. They sat back, deep behind the ball and let us have it 10-15 yards inside their half but I didn’t think we worked hard enough to get 2v1s on the outside. We spoke about that at half time and it did improve.
"The wind was obviously a big influence on the game too. I thought although we didn’t play with the intensity we like and want in the first half, we had to counter that with making sure we stayed strong against that wind and didn’t over-commit ourselves. We slowly improved in the second half and had a good couple of chances at the end to win.
"Like we’ve just said in there, it’s not often you play poorly in the FA Youth Cup and win, so we’ll take that."
After 120 minutes without a goal, the game went to penalties with Jamie Gray, Michael Cregan, Matt Smyth and Sam Dowridge all hitting the back of the net with their spotkicks.
Asked whether his side had specifically practiced penalties in advance of this game, Robbie told us, “We do take penalties during the week to keep the lads ticking over and get them to do different things, but we didn’t practice penalties for this game. We deliberately brought Sam Dowridge on at the end, from our Elite Development Programme scheme, because he’s a good penalty taker. That was a tactical sub by us at the end for Mark McKee, who was struggling. Thank god he stepped up and put it in, as that could have drastically backfired!"
In an ironic twist of fate the Under-18s next Youth Alliance fixture is away at Cambridge again. Originally scheduled for this Saturday, the game was moved to next Tuesday when it emerged both teams would face each other in the cup.
Robbie said, “We play them again on Tuesday and our Under-16s play them on Saturday. All in all it’ll be an interesting return fixture against them. I think both teams will play a lot freer, away from the pressures of the FA Youth Cup, so we’ll see how we get on.”