A Cup final appearance, a record broken and more – Craig Liddle says it’s been another successful campaign for Boro’s Academy.
Our U18s reached the Premier League Cup final, edged out by Manchester City at the Riverside, while England Youth international Nathan Wood became Boro’s youngest-ever player when he stepped off the bench for the first team’s Carabao Cup win over Notts County.
Some of the club’s youngsters have also tasted success, including our U10s lifting silverware last weekend, while other age groups have also scooped trophies.
Liddle, Boro’s Academy Manager, said despite coming up short against City in the Cup final, it’s an experience that will stand them in good stead for the future, while plenty of others have been at the coalface with loan spells in the lower leagues.
“They (U18s) performed fantastic in the Premier League Cup, reaching the final against an excellent Manchester City side. They narrowly lost 1-0, but it was a fantastic occasion and experience for the boys,” he said.
“They were disappointed to lose on the evening, but for us it was about seeing them in that challenging environment and see how they handled it. They handled it very well and they were unfortunate.
“In terms of the league position, they finished quite high up in the league but the key is that a lot of the 18s games were made up with a lot of U16s players.
“We’ve also had a lot of 18s playing in the 23s, so the players have been stretched throughout the season and they will gain an awful lot of experience from the year they’ve all had.”
The Carabao Cup provided the chance for some youngsters to get a taste of first team action, where 16-year-old Wood wrote himself into club folklore as the youngest-ever player.
Another Cup competition in the Checkatrade Trophy was also chance for some Academy youngsters to test themselves against League One and Two opposition, with the first ever win under the new structure arriving away to Burton Albion.
Liddle says he’s delighted to see more Academy players involved in and around the first team, with Wood’s record a reward for plenty involved.
“That’s what the Academy is all about – producing players for the first team,” he said.
“The evening they had in the Carabao Cup where there was a number of boys who made their debuts, we had a number of boys involved in the matchday squad which, again, is fantastic experience for them.
“For Nathan Wood to become the football club’s youngest-ever player is a fantastic achievement for him and a fantastic accolade for the Academy.”
Academy graduates Stephen Wearne, Nathan Dale have earned professional deals, Connor Malley has signed a new contract, and a number of youngsters have been released.
Liddle is pleased to see a number of Academy products sign on professional terms, and wishes those departing the club the best for the future.
“This stage of the season, there’s a lot of hype and happiness around boys getting professional deals and making their first team debuts,” he said.
“There’s a sad element as well, which isn’t nice to deal with, when boys get released from the system and some of them have been here for a number of years.
“We do feel it and know that they’re disappointed, but hopefully they’ll go on and get a career in professional football because that’s what they want to be.”