Hayward: “It’ll be great to get a crowd”

Academy manager hoping for a supportive turnout

Exeter City U18 v Swindon Town U18
St James Park
FA Youth Cup, first round
Wednesday 6th November 2013, 7.30pm
Tickets: £4 adults, £1 under-18s (enter and pay via Stadium Way turnstiles)

Ahead of Exeter City’s under-18 tie against Swindon Town on Wednesday evening (kick-off 7.30pm) in the FA Youth Cup, Academy manager Simon Hayward is hopeful that there will be another good turnout for the match at St James Park.

Over 500 supporters turned out at the Park to see the under-18s’ thrilling 2-2 friendly fixture against Manchester City earlier in the season, and Hayward is hoping for a similar or better turnout to cheer on the young Grecians in the knockout competition.  The winning side will play a home tie against AFC Totton or Leyton Orient in the second round.

City fans turned out in their hundreds at Selhurst Park to see the under-21s overturn Crystal Palace last week, with a squad that featured a number of players from the under-18s including Ollie Watkins, Connor Riley-Lowe and match-winner Matt Jay.

For many supporters, it will be a chance to catch a first glimpse of some City youngsters that are hopeful of earning a pro contract at the season’s end.  It should also be an opportunity to see the style of football that is earning the Exeter Academy and Lee Skyrme’s under-18 side such rave-reviews.

“It will be great for a crowd to see these boys play,” said Hayward.  “In the five years previous to this, we have only had one home game in the FA Youth Cup – it would be great if people turned out, because we might go another five years with only getting away draws and not getting a chance to see them play in this competition!

“If we could get five, six or seven hundred rather than the twenty or thirty that we get at the Cat & Fiddle on a Saturday morning, then that would be great.

“We’ll be looking to keep the ball, play quick short passes, have creative attacking players and keep the ball where we can.  Our main aim will be to dominate the game by having the ball more than they do.

“That said, the lads will have to do the other side of it.  They’ll have to work hard and compete and do the basics.  But as anyone that saw the Man City game will know, anyone that comes will see a group of players that are good in possession of the ball.”

The under-18s defeated Swindon Town 5-0 earlier in the season at the Cat & Fiddle, but the Academy manager is aware of the dangers of being complacent.

Paul Bodin left the County Ground during the summer and the disruption of a change of coach may have played its part in the Grecians’ ability to win the game by such a margin.

“It would be foolish of us to expect an easy game,” he continued.  “We saw Jamie Pitman when Swindon came to the Cat & Fiddle a few weeks ago – he is a good guy and a good coach, and it was probably too early in the season as he hadn’t had long to work with those boys and put his own stamp on it.

“Our boys went through that same settling-in period with Kevin [Nicholson] last year when he arrived, and yet the under-18s went on to do really well last year.  

“It could be a similar story where Jamie’s first few games and first few weeks is just a settling-in period and all of a sudden they could turn up here and click on the day.  We need to be ready for that.”

Interest in the club’s Academy has stepped up a gear this season, with almost half of the first-team squad numbers that were given out belonging to players that had progressed through the set-up at the Cat & Fiddle. 

“The under-21 game against Crystal Palace was a great example of the quality of the work that we’re doing,” continued Hayward.  “11 out of the 16 in the squad were local boys who have been in the Academy up to ten years, and playing against Premier League opposition.

“It is great to know that if you create the right environment and put the right people around you and if everyone works really hard for a long period of time, you get results.

“Within this group of second-year scholars, we have got six lads who will get a decision on a pro contract at the end of the season.  We are hopeful that that conveyor belt will continue and that some of those players will step into the first team.”

And, of course, an opportunity to play at St James Park again is another attractive prospect for the under-18s, as is the chance to progress through the rounds.

For Hayward and under-18 coach Skyrme, the preparation has to continue in the usual vein to give City the chance to come out victorious.

“The boys are really looking forward to it,” explained Hayward.  “As a coaching staff, we’re trying to keep everything as close to normal as possible and treat the game in the same way as we would any other.  The players perceive the game to be more important than our other matches, so our job is to create an environment where they use that extra motivation and turn it into a positive performance.

“In my five or six years that I’ve been involved, we’ve not managed to progress too far in this competition – we made the third round once and played away at Blackpool.

“In friendly fixtures we have done very well – we have had good results against Reading and Cardiff, and again this season against Manchester City.  But we haven’t quite managed to progress through the rounds in that way in the Youth Cup.

“So it’s a nice opportunity for the boys.  It would be a good experience if we could go on a bit of a run.  Although ultimately we’ve got to make sure it isn’t a distraction from the day-in, day-out work of developing players to get in the first team.”

Highlights from Exeter City's 5-0 under-18 win against Swindon Town earlier in the season in the Youth Alliance South West.