An update from the Academy, as included in Saturday's match day programme...
Recent weeks have seen an upturn in fortunes for the Stevenage Under-18s, both in competitive and friendly fixtures. From four games they picked up wins against Southend United, St Kevin’s Boys and Newport County, with the only negative being a 3-1 home defeat to MK Dons.
Looking back at these games and providing an update on other Academy related items, Academy Manager Robbie O’Keefe told us, “The Southend game was a friendly the week before the start of the Merit League campaign. We played predominantly Under-16s and first year scholars against a first and second year scholar side from Southend that finished second in the Youth Alliance South-East division. We won 2-0 and it was a very good, organised display where we looked very solid and strong.
"We took the lead through a trialist in the first half and then Luke Slater finished the win off towards the end. It was a good performance and was us getting back to where we should be. There was a lot of work that had gone on during the week on organisation and structure and that ran through into the Saturday game.
“We then hosted MK Dons at home in the first Merit League game. We went into the break 1-0 up through Ben Wilmott and had a good couple of other chances to score too. We were really dominant in the game but then Jack Storer got sent off and we ended up losing 3-1. That was a real disappointment but if there’s one team you don’t want to play against with 10 men, it’s MK Dons.
“The half term week saw a really busy schedule at the Academy. We had Academy training, shadow squad games, development centre games and scholars playing in the reserve game against Crystal Palace where we drew 1-1. Nathan Kerr, Matt Smyth and Luke Slater formed three of the back four against Palace and they did well. It was good to see Matt back in a Stevenage shirt as he’s been out on loan at St Neots and he’s looking better for that experience.
St Kevin's Boys
“On the Wednesday we then had a game against Irish side St Kevin’s Boys FC, who came over for a visit. We won the friendly 3-1 with a team comprising Under-16s and first year scholars. We got better as the game went on and the introduction of Mark McKee, Mickey Cregan and Liam Brady in the second half turned the match for us, which shows the level of improvement that they’ve made and shows their influence on the pitch.
“We have a really good relationship with St Kevin’s, from whom we signed Brady, Slater, Jamie Gray and Cregan last summer. We want to work hard with them and forge the best relationship with them off the pitch. We looked after them during their visit, gave them a tour of the stadium and took them up to Bragbury End where they met Darren Sarll and some of the players. We’ve since had some lovely feedback thanking us for their hospitality.
Mickey Cregan scored the only goal against Newport County
“Our latest fixture saw us travel to Newport County last weekend for probably the windiest, wettest and coldest game I’ve ever been involved in. Such was the strength of the wind that Ryan Schmid took four goal kicks that came back into his area, yet we won 1-0 with Mickey Cregan scoring the goal. Ryan had a good game with a clean sheet and an assist. His goal-kick eluded everyone and Micky lofted it over the ‘keeper. He then had a second disallowed, which was extremely tight, but it was a good finish and it’s great to see him back in the goals.
“The defensive qualities we showed in the game were really good, considering the elements. We got into their half just twice in the second half, such was the strength of the wind. On the second time we put it into the corner and kept it there, winning throws for the last 10 minutes of the game! Although we were continually under pressure I never felt like we were going to concede. Credit to the back four and midfield four who worked really hard – and the front two had to adapt to a number of formation changes too. At the end of the game Mickey Cregan ran off the pitch, into the dressing room and straight into the shower in his kit. That’s how cold it was. However it was a good end to a good week.
“Elsewhere in the Academy structure we’ve recently had the college trials for our Elite Development Programme at Marriotts School and Elite College Programme at Cheshunt FC. We’ve been really encouraged by a) the quality and b) the volume of numbers coming through so we’re hopeful for the next couple of years. These schemes are already proving beneficial to us on the pitch. We’ve had Macsen Fraser from the Marriott’s EDP in training and took him down to Newport on Saturday. He played 40 minutes and he’s doing really well. We’ve also had the likes of Sam Dowridge and Luis Mitchell involved previously too.
“We go into the last part of the season and we really want to crack on. We’re getting more settled with our training programme and playing availability has been good. There’s been so many niggles and people out on loan that sometimes we’ve had eight or nine training, but now it’s 14 or 15 which does make a difference.
“There is no game for the U18s this Saturday so we’re giving them the weekend off – their first since July, apart from Christmas. Our U16s are going to play Ipswich and that’ll give us a good indication of the lads we’ve scholared for next season and the youngsters coming through. Meanwhile last weekend we played Barnet with the younger age groups. The Under-9s were missing a few players and lost but the Under-10s, Under-11s, Under-12s, Under-13s and Under-14s all won.
“Finally everyone at the Academy would also like to wish Jake Burrell, one of our Under-9s who attends games at The Lamex Stadium, a speedy recovery from illness. A few weeks ago Jake reported an injury which looked initially like a twisted ankle or ligament injury but that turned rapidly into a blood / bone infection which hospitalised him for two weeks. It’s been a traumatic time for him, his parents and family. I went to see him in hospital in the week and took a signed shirt which Ronnie Henry had got the first team lads to sign. We understand he’s on the mend now so we’d all like to wish Jake a quick and full recovery.”