Rochdale’s under 15s secured their place in the knockout stages of the Premier League Floodlit Cup on Wednesday night.
Having entered the elite competition for the first time, the Dale youngsters needed just a point from their final group stage match, and they got the required result against Blackburn Rovers to ensure progression in the competition.
Lee Riley, Academy coach, told www.rochdaleafc.co.uk: “The players have done the whole club and the Academy proud. We’re all really proud of them.
“I told them before the game that they’d already exceeded expectations with what they’d achieved up until this point, so tonight was a free hit for them and a bit of a bonus.
“We went into the competition a little bit cold and not knowing what to expect, so I’m really pleased with the character they’ve shown from the first game when they lost to Manchester City to where they are now.”
The Premier League Floodlit Cup was launched last year to give young players the opportunity of playing competitive football, whilst allowing them to adapt to the demands and conditions of evening matches that senior players face on a regular basis.
Rochdale were one of just eight Category Two and Category Three clubs from across the country to secure qualification to the competition, after clubs from outside Category One were invited to qualify for the first time.
Riley says the experience gained from playing in the competition has been invaluable.
“This is the best competition I’ve seen for players at this age and level, in terms of the fact that there’s a competitive edge to it. It has helped with teaching the players to win, rather than just playing nice Academy football. In addition, it’s great that it’s at night, under floodlights and at a venue with a crowd.
“I think it has been invaluable experience for them to take forward.”
After finishing runners up in the group to last year’s winners Manchester City, an away tie against another elite side awaits for the Dale youngsters.
“We don’t know it who it’ll be yet, but we’ll play whoever tops the group with Derby, Wolves, Leicester and Aston Villa in it. It’ll be a nice little midweek trip for the boys and another good for experience for them. They are happy to go and play anyone now.”
The full interview is on Dale PlayerHD.