By Anth Elliott
Our Academy sides have started the season well, with U19’s so far enjoying a commanding lead in the league and the U18’s having more mixed fortunes – with a touch of first-team action too.
So, I took the opportunity to ask Head Football Academy Coach Marc Nash for his thoughts on the season so far for both U18 and U19 sides.
On the under 18’s start to the campaign Nash said, “We have made a decent enough start to the season with this young squad which is a combination of U17 and U18 players.”
“There are a lot of good teams in the division like South Shields who are able to field U19 players along with other sides in the league.”
“League rules prevent us from using U19’s in this side as they play in the Academy North League which is deemed the same competition.”
Nash said, “However, it is great development for the 18’s to play against established opposition and will only better prepare them for the U19 set up.”
On the 18’s early exit from the FA Youth Cup Nash said, “We were very disappointed to lose in injury time to Spennymoor. After last years exploits of reaching the First Round proper hopes were high but we lost to a good side who have progressed to reach the same success we did, and will face Barnsley as a reward. Credit to Spennymoor.”
So far in the league the U18’s has had mixed fortunes earning wins against both Bradford PA and Hartlepool United, whilst tasting defeat in games against South Shields and Pickering Town. However, the 18’s have earned an exciting cup tie with Stockport County after their 6-0 demolition of Newcastle Benfield.
The season also has some early casualties with injuries to full backs Dawson Carr (dislocated knee) and Aaron Bell (Achilles) which has been a blow to the squad.
Highlight of the season so far was 17-year-old Rio Joisce making his first team debut for Spartans in their televised FA Cup replay away to National League side Wrexham.
I asked Joisce what it felt like to be making his debut for the first-team, especially because it was the FA Cup which Blyth have a long history in, made even more challenging given they were up against an impressive Hollywood-backed Wrexham side.
Joisce said, “It was unbelievable, especially given the occasion and to have the trust of management when the game was so intense.”
“Representing Spartans in the FA Cup didn’t seem real, as a local lad growing up in Blyth you dream of moments like that and having the support from the fans helped me a lot.”
I asked if the 17-year-old’s experience with the academy had helped him to make the step up to the first team?
Joisce said, “Honestly, I thought I would have been more nervous to come on against Wrexham, however I think the FA Youth Cup (last year) prepared me for a game like that, at that intensity – such as the game against Salford in the First Round proper.”
And did he feel there was a clear path for others to earn a spot in the first-team as he had, following some great performances?
Joisce continued, “I most definitely think there’s a path towards the first-team and I believe all of the players from 18’s and 19’s are more than capable to progress if they work hard and keep playing well.”
The U19’s have made an impressive start to the season with 100% record, Nash echoed this when asked about their performance so far.
“They have made a great start to the season winning 6 out of 7. New coach Livue Cristea is absolutely delighted with the start they have made and is pleased with the attitude of the players. This group are among the best around at U19 level outside of full-time academies.”
“So far they have defeated Chesterfield, Notts County, Altrincham also seeing victories over last years league runner up AFC Fylde and current league champions Solihull Moors.”
Nash added, “Some of the lads are already playing at Step Four with Declan Bisset (Consett), Dan Turner and Josh Walker (North Shields) and obviously there’s skipper Matty Dopson who is an England Schoolboy international and regularly in the first team here. Most of the other lads are at Step Six with a pocket of them at neighbours Blyth Town”
The U19’s have been drawn against South Shields in the Academy Cup which is scheduled for Wednesday 30th November which should be a great game.
We encourage any Spartan fan or football fan for that matter to get themselves along to watch the lads play be it the U18’s up at North Shields FC or the U19’s side who play their fixtures at either Croft Park or Wensleydale.
We’ll catch back up with Nashy later in the season to get further updates on the academy or follow us on twitter @BSAFC_U19s for all the latest on both the academy sides.