In our Under-21s’ first ever foray into the competition, we found ourselves under heavy pressure from the off at Kenilworth Road and it needed a fine save from Brandon Austin and some frantic defending to keep us in the game.
We fell behind after 19 minutes but responded virtually straight away as a good run and shot from skipper Pritchard saw the ball hit the post and rebound in off goalkeeper James Shea.
Ryan Loft then burst forward to give us the lead shortly after half-time and although the home side equalised later in the game, we came out with a creditable point in Group F following a 2-2 draw. As per competition rules, a penalty shootout then took place with the winners gaining a bonus point. Luton triumphed 4-2, but that didn’t dampen spirits too much after a brave and gutsy display in front of a large crowd, including a brilliant, vocal Spurs following.
Here’s what the players had to say afterwards…
As a 16-year-old patrolling the midfield area, how did you find facing up to Luton’s first team?
“Obviously it’s a challenge because they’re likely to be more physical than I am, so you just try to use your brain in situations where they’re more physical – you take less touches than if you’re playing Under-18s football, for example, and also you have to move the ball quicker because they’re constantly pressurising you. I also think you have to believe that you’ll be able to cope, try to get on the ball and take it as if it was any other game and not worry about who they are.”
How did you think the game progressed after we went in at half-time level?
“It was a great start to the second half – Will (Miller) with a great pass and Ryan with a great finish. Obviously after half-time it’s good to score and to get a 2-1 lead to get us into it. At the break we were saying that we needed to try to get on the ball, be brave on the ball, try to play out from the back a bit more and use our full-backs as the outlets, as Luton were playing a diamond. It was disappointing to concede the second from a cross like that but we did well after that because they had the momentum, so we did well to stop them scoring a third goal.”
Luton had some experienced attackers in their side. What was it like to defend against them?
“Aerially it was really good test. We were very good in the air. We always had to be aware but defensively I thought we did alright despite conceding two goals – we made good blocks, defended well and defended corners. Defensively, it was probably one of our toughest games yet.”
Talk us through the start of the game…
“It was tough and I think there were a few nerves. Nerves can be good but I think we let them get the better of us in the first 15 minutes. It was quite hard, we had to dig in but we managed to get through it with Brandon making a good save to keep us in the game. Eventually we grew into it, got our confidence up and started playing good football. It was a tough first 15 minutes but we got through it and that’s the good thing. It was a timely goal for 1-1 as well. Luton scored and I think the boys were a bit low, but when Joe popped up with that shot, it gave us a lift and then we got to control the game, everyone got their confidence up and we started passing the ball better.”
How challenging was this game?
“I thought Luton were a very good team. They played a formation with four in midfield that I think we found it hard to get used to at first – we found it tough to defend against them, they had a lot of the ball in our half but towards the end of the first half we got on the ball a lot more and we did well to dig in and get out of the first half at 1-1.”
Talk us through your shot that led to the opening goal…
“There weren’t many options on. I remember looking out wide but I just had to keep running with it and keep trying to push them back. Luckily they were dropping off, not closing me down and I got to the point where I thought I could hit the shot. I caught it well and it was unfortunate to hit the post to be fair – I thought I did everything right, the defender was in front of me, I hit it just over his right leg and as soon as it hit the keeper, it felt like it was going forever! It hit the post again and then rolled in. Then I was buzzing!”
What was said at the interval?
“Obviously we had a good team talk at half-time, Wayne (Burnett) gave us loads of confidence to go back out in the second half and we knew and thought we could beat them. We really got into the them early on, won the ball, played it forward quickly, Ryan made a great run, obviously his speed got him in and what a great finish as well, one-v-one with the keeper. Always towards the end of the game you get more tired but the lads managed that really well. When everyone was tired we stuck together, stayed in good shape, kept a good structure, dug in and ended up getting the point.”
What were your thoughts after the penalty shootout?
“It’s always tough to lose on penalties because you feel like maybe you didn’t deserve it. All credit to the lads because we played really well and we deserved to come out with the draw. There’s always stuff that we can improve on, it’s obviously disappointing to lose but we’ve got a lot more games to come so we’re looking forward to them now.”