Blues Under-23s get season underway

Paul Robinson and Richard Beale.
Paul Robinson and Richard Beale.

When you are in football you can’t beat having a working week and a game on a Saturday.

Richard Beale

Blues face Watford on Saturday, 11 August (12 noon kick-off) in the Professional Development League at St. Andrew's Trillion Trophy Stadium.

And it is set to be a regular occurrence in 2018/19 after another significant wrinkle by Garry Monk in the way the Under-23s are set up and go about their business.

Monk has brought the Under-23s closer to the First Team, effectively as an extension of the senior group.

“Brilliant," commented Richard Beale, Blues' Senior Professional Development Coach, on the St. Andrew's plan. "When you are in football you can’t beat having a working week and a game on a Saturday.

“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do that and the Manager was keen for us to mirror the First Team programme as much as we can.

“Our home games will be on a Saturday, as many we can at the stadium, away from the training ground environment.

"The boys experiencing stadium football, a game-day experience as close to the First Team as possible. We want that kind of approach, that kind of intensity.

“Of course the games aren’t at that level, but we are not going to treat it as just turn up and go through the motions. It’s going to be a case of play every game as if it’s your last game.

“We will work the players hard. They are going to be fit. They are going to be stronger. They have got to be potentially ready to go into that First Team environment.”

Stadium games are a way to aid that.

Blues Under-23s are also at St. Andrew's on Saturday, 25 August against Colchester United (12 noon), Saturday, 8 September against Crystal Palace (12 noon).

Beale says the Under-23s are going into Saturday's match on the back of a positive pre-season.

“Very satisfied with it," said Beale.

“Before we talk about the team on the pitch, we have now got a team off the pitch (concentrating solely on the Under-23s), which is fantastic.

“Paul Robinson (Assistant Senior Professional Development Coach), Scott Bevan (Goalkeeper Coach) Simon Houston (Performance Analyst), Chris Armstrong (Physical Conditioning Coach) and Elliott Woolmer (Sports Scientist). It’s been huge.

“The fact we have got a team who are really, really together, positive and hard-working, the lads are getting a really, really good development programme.

“It’s a big step forward, being able to have the people of the calibre of Robbo and Scott and the others.

“The lads are having as much provision as the First Team and that’s where they want to get to.

“It’s been a big part of us having a successful pre-season.”

Beale and his staff have been embraced by Monk's.

“The Manager and has staff have been fantastic integrating us into all of their work. He has given up a lot of his time to take us through his methodology as have his staff in sharing sessions and lots of ideas.

"It has enabled us to implement these ideas with the young players so they understand what's expected before they go over to the First Team. They don’t need that bedding in, as much.

“There have been boys who have been part of the First Team squad in pre-season and been away with them, which is fantastic. They will go on to form part of the squad, come back to us, go out on loan.

"When they have come back over to us in pre-season, we have found their levels have gone through the roof really because of the input they have had with the First Team and exposure to the tempo. It only bodes well for the players at this Club.”

The likes of Wes Harding, Connal Trueman, Beryly Lubala, Charlie Lakin, Dominic Bernard, Corey O'Keeffe, Kyle McFarlane, Dan Scarr, Remeao Hutton, Jake Weaver, Steve Seddon and Odin Bailey have been inolved in the First Team, either making their debuts, as part of the training group or going on tour, since Monk's arrival.

"It is our job to bridge that gap (from Under-18s to Under-23s and senior side)," said Beale. “The Manager has shown that if you are good enough, age doesn’t come into it.

“So it’s all there for the players and they are really the key to it all. They have got to work like they never have before, they have got to be fitter, stronger and better technically and tactically.

“They have got to be able to cope with tough love, not being around the First Team environment, not getting in the 23s team, losing games, dealing with a run of winning games and not letting it go to their head, training with the First Team and not letting it go to their head . . . all these mental things are the biggest indicators to whether a player will make it. They have got to be resilient and if they can fight their way through all that then they will have a real good chance.

“You can only influence them for the time they are here.

“Away from here they have to be inspired by good people and surround themselves with good people, rather than those who give them negative information or false hope.”

Competing for the league title and Premier League Cup this season is important, but not the be all and end all.

“I think winning is a massive, massive part of development," said Beale.

“Winning for us is getting players in the First Team, without a doubt.

“If this side can improve to a level where they get good enough for First Team, that’s the ultimate.

“So yes development is number one, but part of that development in this Under-23s group will be going out in every game to win it. We will approach every game like it’s the last one they are going to play.

“Only by playing at that intensity and level are they going to give themselves a chance of improving and getting to where we all want the players to be."