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Alex Inglethorpe has praised the Academy for achieving its goals under hugely testing circumstances this season.

Alex Inglethorpe has praised the Academy for achieving its goals under hugely testing circumstances this season.Our Under-18 coach had to cope without a number of his squad due to injury. Terry Dixon, a full Irish squad member, missed the whole campaign with a serious knee problem and the likes of Troy Archibald-Henville, Jamie Davis, Matty Wells, Chris Riley, Jacques Maghoma, Alex Smith and David Button were sidelined for huge chunks of the season.

Despite that, the lads still finished in a creditable third place in Group B of the FA Premier Academy League, losing just five of their 28 matches.

The injuries opened the door for Under-16 players and they grasped their chance with Yaser Kasim, Ryan Mason, Jonathan Obika, Adam Smith and Andros Townsend all gaining valuable experience.

Here, Alex talks us through the season…

You wanted consistency and delivered it in the league despite a number of injuries.
Alex Inglethorpe: “We’ve played this season under the most incredible circumstances because of injuries and I will be surprised and disappointed if we had to endure those problems again. In fact, at times we’ve been running at 50 per cent injuries. The plus side is that so many players have broken through and made a contribution in the reserves and the Under-16s have come in and done well for the Under-18s. So in terms of the season, to achieve what we set out to do at the beginning – consistency in the league, progression and development of player - has been a tremendous effort from everyone.”

What have been the highlights?
Alex: “The highlights for me are seeing the players develop. The improvement they make and you start to see the transition from the 16-year-olds coming in. The football environment teaches young boys to grow into men very quickly because everyone wants the finished product so quickly. To see that development, to see them take on responsibility and to see them mature is one of the most pleasing aspects."

The First Year trainees seem to have coped very well.
Alex: “Traditionally, it’s usually the First Years who take the time to find their feet and maybe don’t play as many games in the first season. This season the load on them has been particularly high and the likes of David Hutton, Jake Livermore and Tomas Pekhart have ended up playing more then their fair share of reserve games, on top of the Academy games. In fact, the bench at reserve level has pretty much been made up of Academy players and we’ve always had one or two starting. Just about every First Year has made a reserve team appearance and that’s encouraging.”

How much will that benefit them in terms of development next season?
Alex: “It’s all about progression. With the First Years stepping up it’s meant the Under-16s have been able to come in, the Under-15s are playing Under-16 football ahead of time as well. Just about everyone has had to step up to the plate this season, whether or not they’ve been ready, and they’ve done just that.”

Just picking a couple of players out, Troy Archibald-Henville was out for the best part of a year, but played the second half of the season and finished strong.
Alex: “He’s had the most unbelievable work ethic this season. He’s consistently been the first into the training ground and the last out, he knows his career is dependent on working hard on injury prevention. Tactically and physically and technically he ticks a lot of box. He has a lot of game understanding to grasp but if he works as hard next season as this season he’ll have a bright future.”

Can you give a progress report on Terry Dixon?
Alex: “Terry’s back in full training now. It was a huge loss to us to lose someone of his calibre. In the first two games, he scored two goals and created three, so if the season had continued that way, he would have without doubt made a lot of reserve team appearances. He’s worked incredibly hard and he’s had to mature over the season. The injury has given him a renewed sense of purpose and we all hope he steers clear of injury next season.”

A word on Tomas Pekhart, who scored 19 goals in 20 games this season.
Alex: “That was an excellent return and for a lad from the Czech Republic to come over to us, there is no obvious language connection, so credit to him. He won over the players very early with his ability, he’s now fluent in English, gets on well with everyone and is a great kid to work with. He scores goals and given chances, he’s an exceptional finisher. He’s got a long way to go yet to develop his game outside the box, but with people like Berbatov here, he’ll improve because he’s a tremendous role model.”

Finally, have you enjoyed it?
Alex: “I came here because I wanted to learn. As much as I enjoyed senior management, I didn’t think I was learning as much as I wanted to. This season, I’ve loved every minute. The coaches have been incredibly generous with their time, Martin Jol, Damian Comolli, Clive Allen, Ricardo Moniz, John McDermott. They are the reasons I wanted to come to the club, the reasons I changed direction and I’ve not been disappointed. They’ve all got busy schedules but they’ve all given me their time.”

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