Mark Tinkler says his young charges fully deserve their opportunity to step out at the Riverside against Brighton in the U17 PLCup final on Wednesday (kick-off 3pm).
Our youngsters progressed through the group stages of the competition ahead of Newcastle, Sunderland, and Leeds United, before beating Everton in the last eight and Blackburn Rovers in the semi-finals.
“The lads have done really well this season getting to the final.,” said Tinkler, who is the club’s U18 lead coach.
“They performed well in the group stages then beat Blackburn and Everton in the knockout stages, and fully deserve the opportunity to play in the final.
“It’ll be a big occasion playing at the Riverside. Obviously some of them are Middlesbrough fans and hopefully their parents will be able to watch them and see them perform on the day.”
The two knock-out rounds of the PL Cup were played at Darlington’s Mowden Park Stadium where Everton were beaten 3-0 and Blackburn 5-2. And while playing at the Riverside will be a terrific experience for the youngsters, they are no strangers to the bigger stage this season.
“We played at Darlington Mowden Park and we performed really well against Blackburn and Everton,” said Tinkler, who is assisted by James Marwood.
“We moved the ball really well and created lots of chances. It’s a decent sized stadium so hopefully they have a feel for something of that size.”
It will be the first time one of our senior Academy sides has faced Brighton this season. Their Under-18s are third in the Premier League South – ahead of the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal – and their coach Mark Beard is an old team-mate of Tinkler’s from two decades ago.
“I know ‘Beardo’ well,” said Tinkler. “I played with Mark at Southend.
“They are a good footballing team and they have some players who are technically very good.
"We’ve watched their last couple of games in the PL Cup and they look a very well organised and accomplished team.
"They have some good individuals who we are aware of, but so have we and we have a good team so hopefully it will be a good game.”
While the game is classed as Under-17, teams can play four over-age (18) players, three outfield and a goalkeeper.
The game will be streamed live on the club’s YouTube channel.