Paul Robinson hailed the gallant efforts of Blues Under-23s after their Play-Off Final defeat to Leeds United on Monday at the end of what he described as a ‘phenomenal season’.
Blues’ Assistant Senior Professional Development Coach spoke of his pride after watching the youngsters create the better chances against the PDL South title winners, only to be defeated in a penalty shoot-out after extra-time.
Leeds’ squad included nine players that had turned out in the Elland Road first team – boasting more than 180 Whites appearances between them. In contrast Corey O’Keeffe was the only member of the visitors’ side with experience of senior football at Blues.
Following a similar game plan to that of Garry Monk’s Championship outfit this season, the Blues Development Squad allowed the hosts to enjoy more of the possession and launched several threatening counter-attacks, particularly later in the contest.
Clinical finishing was all that was missing from the performance of Richard Beale and Robinson’s charges.
Olly McCoy was twice denied by goalkeeper Kamil Miazek towards the end of the 90 minutes, with Josh Andrews also thwarted by the inspirational Pole following a one-on-one chance in extra-time.
The woodwork came to Leeds’ rescue too – Remeao Hutton hitting the crossbar during the additional 30 minutes.
Penalties were needed to decide the contest and again Miazek was the home team’s hero, saving Blues’ last two spot-kicks as Leeds won the shoot-out 4-2.
But Robinson insisted that his players could hold their heads up high.
“I’m very proud of the boys,” said the former Blues defender and ex- St. Andrew’s skipper.
“We’ve had a game plan all year and it’s been amazing for these boys to learn the system, the same as the First Team.
“You can’t ask any more; when they come to these teams and played on these pitches they’ve always produced. And I thought today was another excellent performance by every single of them.
“We looked the stronger team. I don’t think they hurt us at all, even with all the possession they had and the way that they were moving the ball, they never really opened us up or caused us a lot of problems.
“It was just about being patient, picking the right times, the right moments to get into those little gaps that they’d left – and we did that brilliantly.
“Then it’s about being ruthless, and we’ve been ruthless all year with the chances that we’ve finished off. It was just one of those days when it was lacking for us.”
Robinson revealed that the lads had practised penalties in advance of the Final in the knowledge that the game may have to be decided by a 12-yard lottery.
“We knew if it came to that then we’d be ready, but it’s just one of those things. It’s pressure, but I can’t fault any of them. Their keeper made two good saves and that was it,” he added.
“It’s all a learning experience. So many of those players have got great futures ahead of them, so they’re going to get all these ups and downs and it’s how they take them as people.
“Yes, a few of them are crying their eyes out because they’ve missed the penalties, but they can bounce back from this.
“They are an exceptional group of lads and they should all have their heads held high knowing that they’ve put on a really good performance.
“It’s been a phenomenal season for these boys. I hope they go away, have a good think over the summer about what’s just happened, come back next season, recharged and ready to go again and keep moving in the right direction.”