By Kevin Affleck
Hayden Mullins felt Dan Phillips showed the depth of his character by bouncing back from an early penalty miss to put in a commanding performance in the middle of midfield in the Professional Development League clash with Cardiff City.
The 18-year-old saw a well struck 15th-minute spot-kick saved by Cardiff 'keeper Matt Hall, but recovered to boss the midfield battle. Even the Cardiff coach commented on his all-action performance after the goalless draw at Wingate & Finchley FC.
"Dan was fantastic," said Mullins, the Lead Under-23 Professional Development Coach. "Dan is like that: he wants the ball regardless of if he's missed a penalty. He is a very good player and has been excellent all season. He has fantastic potential and a great attitude. He's a great lad to work with."
The draw ended a run of six straight defeats in the Professional Development League and brought about a first clean sheet since January 11. Towering defender Ben Tricker, 18, was key to keeping Cardiff at arm's length.
"Ben stepped up well," said Mullins. "He's been performing well in the 18s and was part of the side that got to the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup. Him and Joy Mukena did really well. There were some good performances all round, really.
"Adam Parkes made some good saves, including a double save in the second half. Jayden Bennetts is not a striker but he did well as the No.9, winning his fair share of headers and he was always a threat. It's a good learning curve for him and a few others as you won't go through your whole career playing in one position. Hopefully we are helping them and readying them for that next step."
The Under-23s have four games left this season, three away and one at Vicarage Road, and Mullins feels this result can provide a good springboard to help finish the campaign with some sort of flourish.
"There were lots of positives today," said Mullins. "We didn't get the win but overall we are very happy. We missed a penalty and looked like the team who would go on and get the result. But you don't get everything your own way in football and sometimes you have to dig in."
Mullins hopes to have Ryan Cassidy, Harry Forster and Harry Hudson available for the run-in. They all missed out against the Bluebirds through injury and illness.
"Ryan came back from international duty and had a bit of an upset belly so we didn't involve him," said Mullins. "Harry Forster came back training two weeks ago, but he re-injured his ankle and had a bit of a set-back. He's back out on the pitch running so hopefully we'll have him back soon. Harry Hudson tweaked his thigh in the Under-18s game at Crewe last week and he's having a bit of treatment. Hopefully he'll be back in training in the next week or so."
HORNETS: Parkes; Mullings (Suckling 87), Tricker, Mukena (C), Leighton; Phillips, Yamfam, Adebiyi; Trialist (Sankoh 62), Bennetts, Trialist (Sesay 77).
Subs not used: Trialist and Trialist.