Oxford United’s Under 18s may have won their league on Saturday but there is still plenty of hard work ahead for everyone involved at the Academy.
“It was a fantastic moment” Academy Manager Dan Harris told us today as he reflected on the 2-0 win at Newport that gave the U18s the South West Division title of the EFL Youth Alliance.
“They scored the second goal right at the end and so there was a minute or so when we were playing but had effectively won the game and to see the smiles and know everyone had done the job was very satisfying.
“As we have said all along, the league title isn’t everything. The aim is to develop young players who go on to play hundreds of games for the First Team, and to produce young men who are a credit to the club and to their families. This year has been tough for everyone, we know that, but to have the strength and togetherness to stick together and win the league was great.
“But it’s not all about the players. The coaches and backroom staff have had to come through so many changes this year and deserve all the credit but also the parents and families who have helped the players stay focussed on their football. It has been a real team effort and Saturday was a great day for all involved.”
The season now goes in to a different looking second phase:
“Usually the top five in the league would go in to a Merit League but this year for obvious reasons a decision was made to make it more geographical to cut down on travel” Dan said. “So we have a game against Swindon coming up again and will play clubs that are relatively close to us.
“For those games we want to continue the way we have been doing. Our under 16s have stepped up and done very well for us and they will get that chance, along with others from that age group and some of our First Years. We have faith in them all and are confident they will do well although we now have one eye on next year for that group.
“The older boys like Kie Plumley, Tyler Goodrham, Sam Johnson, Callum Crook and Jack Gardner will join the Under 21 bubble who have games coming up as well.
“Their season has really been affected and they have league games to complete. Most of them went on loan to National League South teams but those leagues have gone and so now we want them to play games as a team and show what they can do. They went in to a ‘quarantine’ spell, not training together or meeting up but they have been covid tested twice now and will be back with us properly from Thursday.
“A lot of planning and hard work has gone in to this next phase of the season. Winning the league was good but there’s no rest: those same under 18s have a league cup quarter-final at home to Gillingham tomorrow and have to be focussed on that game if they want to progress. Then the next part of the league and the Under 21 games come along quickly after that.
“So as ever we keep working and we keep doing all we can to keep things moving in the right direction.”