Atay: We're Disappointed With the Performance But Very Proud
Wednesday, 12th May 2021 21:39
Blues U18s manager Adem Atay admitted he was disappointed with his side’s display as they were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Liverpool at Portman Road to exit the fa Youth Cup at the semi-final stage.
Edwin Agbaje headed the Blues in front just before half-time but the Reds improved after the break and scored twice to claim the place in the final where they will play West Brom or Aston Villa.
“The performance itself, we’re disappointed with” Atay said. “The result looks quite nice, that it was only 2-1 that we’ve lost.
“But the actual performance, we haven’t managed to replicate the performances that we had in previous games.
“I think there’s more disappointment in the changing room because of that. Yes, we’ve lost, but not necessarily in the manner that we would have liked.
“They gave everything that they’ve got, I give them credit for that, but that is part of the journey and the learning curve that they’re going to have to go through.
“We’re going to have to get over this very, very quickly. We just spoke in there after the game. Elite performers, which they’re aiming to be, have to bounce back very quickly because there’s something going on in the next week.
“We’ve got two [Professional Development League Two] semi-finals still to play at U18s and U23s level [away against Wigan and Sheffield United respectively]. We’ve spoken in there of being very proud, of the club being very proud of getting to this level.
“There were no expectations of the group getting to an FA Youth Cup semi-final. We are the only EFL club to get to the semi-final this year. We’re the only cat two club to get to the semi-final, we’re the only team that came in at round one that are in the semi-final.
“Things like that you look at and feel really, really pleased with. Someone said before the match that Liverpool have been averaging nearly four goals a game.
“I said to the boys in there that the biggest compliment I got was from Alex Inglethorpe, the academy manager at Liverpool, said ‘we were worried about you before the game and you’ve played well on the night’, albeit we’re not pleased with our performance.
“It’s just part of the journey of development that they’re on and, as I said before, if you can guarantee me that four or five of these players will go into our first team and make the first team better in the future and push the club on to bigger and better things and we were guaranteed a loss tonight, I would have taken it.
“On the night, we’re gutted. Emotions are high when we’re winning and low when we’re losing. They say never get too high and never get too low but that doesn’t sit well with some of us.
“We’re going to have to take this on the chin, we’ve been gracious in our wins in the previous games, we’ve got to be gracious in defeat and that’s part of the learning that’s going to take place.”
Asked whether he sees it as a missed opportunity, the 35-year-old reflected: “It is a missed opportunity because we were in the game, we were leading 1-0, which was something we hadn’t experienced against a team like this at an early stage, at half-time.
“We knew what we had to do coming out but, credit to Liverpool, they were the better team on the night and they deserved to go through.
“On one hand you’re thinking it’s a missed opportunity because of what we’ve done in the past [beating cat one Fulham and Middlesbrough in previous rounds and coming from behind to beat Sheffield United in the quarter-final], but that doesn’t matter, it’s what you do on the night. In a one-off game, Liverpool deserve it.
“You could see it as a missed opportunity but on the night it’s not because Liverpool were the better team.”
Atay says plenty of those involved could feature in the competition next season: “It’s a young team, that’s a thing that we haven’t really mentioned on this journey because we’re not meaning any disrespect to anyone.
“We’ve had four of our second years [Harley Curtis, Brooklyn Kabongolo, Zanda Siziba and Ben Wyss] that could potentially could have been starting that are out injured. That does make a difference.
“There’s a two, three-year in some cases, gap of physical development and we had two U16s [Nico Valentine and Gerard Buabo] starting in the frontline. We had another U16 [Jack Manly] come on late on.
“We had first years out there. They’ve contributed and looking to next season, they can use this experience that they’ve had and go on another journey.
“We’ve got Saturday to consider now. We don’t want to have a run of losses, we going to find a way of coming in tomorrow, recovering, reflecting but we’ve got to move on quickly.
“We’ve want to perform and win on Saturday, we want to perform and win on Monday and represent the club in finals to see out the season. That’s our objective.”
He added: “It’s not finished. Wigan will be looking at this thinking, ‘they’ve lost, they’ll be down in the dumps’ and that they’ll be able to walk over us. That’s not going to happen. We’ll be going there and giving everything we’ve got, we’ll be going there to win the match to put on a fight and a performance can be proud of and the same again on Monday.
“If you’d have said to me at the start of the season that the U18s and the U23s would be in three semi-finals at the end of the season, I’d have said ‘wow, what a journey we’re going to go on, let’s embrace it’.
“And that’s what they’ve done here, that’s what we’re trying to do here. There was a glimmer of hope that a final was on the horizon but unfortunately on the night it wasn’t to be.”
He says the two upcoming games with be a test of mental strength, something they’ve shown they’re not lacking in the FA Youth Cup run.
“We haven’t questioned their character at all here,” he said. “We’ve recognised their strengths as a team, the team spirit, the unity, the character, the ability to bounce back from moments of difficult and adversity, one of the words I keep using.
“We’ve got to adapt to this scenario. We’ve got to come back strong, very quickly. There are tired legs in there. That’s part of the learning, that’s part of the development. If they want to be elite athletes, they’ve got to get used to playing a lot of games over a short space of time, and this is a great way to finish our season.
“We recognise the club are proud of the boys in there. There’s been plenty of support from fans and staff and other clubs. Disappointment but immensely proud of what we’ve achieved so far.”
Atay was flattered to hear fans had expressed their pride in his team on social media following the match.
“That is great,” he said. “We’ve got people at this football club that are passionate about the club, that want to see the club moving forward. We’ve got players here that are committed to the football club that want to play for the badge, that want to break into the first team.
“Becoming a footballer is a very tough ask and the percentage is so low, but it’s moments like this and journeys like this that you can be proud of if things aren’t to develop in that way.
“For some it’s a small stepping stone in becoming a footballer. For some it might be their only strong journey as a footballer, playing against Liverpool in the Youth Cup semi-final, live on BT Sport, 1-0 up at half-time. They’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.
“It’ll be interesting to look back to see which players from Liverpool go on to make it. I think last time we played Liverpool it was Trent Alexander Arnold who was captain of the team, and look what he’s gone on to do. Things like that you remember as a youth team player coming through the programme.
“I appreciate the positive words and pride that everyone’s talking about. We are very gutted but at the same time we’re gracious in defeat. On the night, Liverpool were better than us, but we are proud of the boys and we want to continue to make the club proud by achieving a final in our next two games.
“It’s Wigan on Saturday, the U18s, away, and then the U23s have got Sheffield United away on Monday. The Premier League haven’t been too kind to us with the games programme. We’ve got about seven U23s, so some of these boys are going to play these three games, the game tonight and the next two games.
“They’ve earned the right to play in them. It would have been nice to have had them a few days apart, but we’ll embrace the challenge. Sometimes the smaller clubs don’t get the rub of the green when it comes to things like that. That’s the only thing we’re disappointed with.
“We’ll certainly give it a go. We’ll get together tomorrow as staff and then as players and look at what the next few days are going to look like and once again give everything that we possibly can give to the next two games to get into a final.
“They’re one-off games, so there’s an opportunity for a final, two games to play, we want to achieve one final from these three that we had. Fingers crossed.”
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