YDP Lead Coach Lee Riley says he couldn’t have asked any more of Dale’s Under-15s, after they were cruelly beaten 2-1 by Bolton Wanderers in the Floodlit Trophy Final.
Dale went behind early on at the Crown Oil Arena, but drew level through Peter Thomas shortly after half-time.
However, Bolton claimed the trophy with a goal two minutes into added time, but Riley was pleased with how they performed.
“They’ve been good throughout this year,” said Riley. “They’ve not gone under when it’s not gone their way, they’ve bounced and I thought they did that in the second-half. We couldn’t have asked a lot more of them, especially with the young lads that were playing in the team.
“In the second-half I thought the lads had a good go, played some half decent football, went a little bit more direct at times as well. Second-half I thought we were the better side, but I’ve got no real complaints at losing the game, although I thought it was quite harsh.
“The first game against them [in the group stage] we drew 0-0 and played well, but the second game we were 4-1 down at half-time and the lads showed the same bounce as they did tonight to bring it back and draw 4-4.
“We’ve seen development in character, 100%, and I don’t think anyone can question their character tonight. Our quality at key moments let us down, and that’s why I wouldn’t have any real complaints about losing the game.”
Dale had a number of key players missing, meaning there were players out of position and a few of the under-14s squad making the step up.
“We nearly had to call the game off. But with it being the end of the season, we had to go with what we had. Both of our regular centre-halves got injured in the same game within five minutes of each other a couple of weeks ago.
“We were left with not much room to manoeuvre with the team. We had to move people about a little bit, but it gave those boys the experience.”
“Six [under-14s] finished the game and we started with four. In the grand scheme of things, if we’re looking at next year with those players moving into the under-15s Floodlit Cup, and hopefully qualifying for the Premier League Floodlit Cup, that experience tonight is what they’ll take with them.”
Riley had a special mention for Luke Matheson, who has been playing two years above his age group with the Youth Team for most of the season, as well as training with the First Team during school holidays.
“For Luke, he was devastated, but he played out of position for us tonight at centre-half, where he’s never played, and I thought he was outstanding.
He showed why he’s had the season he’s had with his character and mentality. My message to Luke was take away Tuesday [winning the North West EFL Youth Alliance League title] rather than tonight, because I wouldn't want it to sour his memories of the season that’s he’s had with the U18s.”
First-team member Joe Thompson took the pre-match team talk ahead of the game, something Riley was very thankful for.
“Nevermind the players, I think it was a great experience for the staff!
“I’ll take away the kids faces from tonight when Joey Thompson walked in. Nobody asked him to do it, he actually text Kevin Gibbins last night if he could come, and he was more than happy to speak to the players.
“We didn’t tell them he was coming so Joe delivered the team talk just before they went out, and his message was “never give up, go out and have a go”. He talked about his year, especially Saturday [scoring against Charlton Athletic] which all the lads watched.
“It meant the world really, not just to the players but to the staff for him to come and do that after the year he’s had. His message as it always is was never give up. It was great of him to come down and the lads were made up when he walked in.”
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