Aldershot Town’s youth teams enjoyed varying success in the Hampshire Cup last weekend, but are still able to boast two sides in the quarter-finals.
The Shots’ Under 13 side – reigning champions as last season’s Under 12 winners – continued their brilliant form with a 4-0 victory against Cowes to follow victories against Petersfield Town and Salisbury by an aggregate of 17-1.
The Under 14s also made impressive progress, with a 6-1 victory against Petersfield Town. The Under 12s, though, lost 6-2 against Gosport, having themselves beaten Petersfield Town 6-1 in the second round.
Stephen Mills’ Under 16s endured penalty shoot-out defeat in their quarter-final against Romsey’s Braishfield Bees, losing 6-5 after a 1-1 draw in normal time, and Mills admitted: “I was disappointed with the result but happy with their performance. Some of the football we played on a tough pitch was exceptional, and if we’d come away with a big win I don’t think Braishfield would have been disappointed.
“We just couldn’t score, and their goalkeeper had a great game. Then the match goes straight to penalties, and most of the penalties were very well taken – but hopefully those are the moments that stand them in good stead for later life. It’s a good experience for them, so hopefully they will be ready to deal with it again, in one, two or five years’ time.
Of the Under 13s, Mills continued: “They’re the holders, so they’re high in confidence and they did really well. It’s a credit to both teams (U13 and U14), and it’s good for our teams to be in that knock-out format, because it adds a different element for them – they don’t often play in a one-off game.
“We ask a lot of our teams, to play in a certain way, as the first-team do, and that can be very difficult on some of the pitches that we play and some of the teams we play against.”
At the same time, three teams from Under 9 to Under 11 age-groups travelled to Cardiff’s Vale Sports Arena to face the PG10 Academy, having played Fulham the previous week at their London School of Economics base in New Malden. “It’s an amazing facility” says Foundation Level coach Ryan Nevard. “To be in the same environment as Fulham and Southampton (whose own Academy teams were on adjacent pitches) was really good for the boys, and they played well. It was a big test for them, we threw them in at the deep end but they reacted very well.
“They were really positive and worked hard, and gave a very good account of themselves. Not everything they tried came off, when it might have done in the Junior Premier League, but they can be proud of their performance. They weren’t overwhelmed and it just shows the character amongst the young boys.”
Other age-groups will also face Fulham this weekend – after recently gaining great experience in games against Brighton & Hove Albion – and Nevard is impressed at their progress in weekly Junior Premier League fixtures.
“The teams seem to be getting better every week, as they understand each other better and what we expect from them. The new players have settled in well, and their performances are improving all the time. The players are demanding more from each other and our coaching programme will help them to develop even more. It’s a joy to watch some of the teams play, and some of the things they try are fantastic.”
“That’ll be an extremely tough test,” admits Mills of the return to Fulham, “but our Under 9 and Under 10 teams did really well and that’s what has got us got invited back.”
With a number of European tours being planned for the Spring, it’s an exciting – and very busy – period. “We’ve just started the second phase of the season, leading up to our reviews at Christmas,” concludes Mills. The next couple of weeks are big for both players and staff, as we assess how everybody is doing. Then at Christmas we review all 256 players – everyone is excited to find out how things are going, and where we might go in the future.”