FA Youth Cup: Liverpool Preview
by Jack Mirkovic
“As far as we’re concerned we’ve got as good a chance as anyone to go on and win it.”
Those were the rousing words of Graham Stack, who along with Tom Hart, take the club’s fearless Under-18 team to face Liverpool at Anfield in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup on Sunday, KO midday.
The Hornets have already knocked Birmingham City, Southampton, Ipswich Town and Leicester City out of the competition and now have the six-times finalists in their sights.
“The game is a wonderful occasion for a group of players that deserves the opportunity to play against a good side in a very special stadium,” said Stack, the Academy’s Goalkeeping Coach.
“Reaching the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup is a remarkable achievement but the players and staff are hungry for more. I am excited for our players to once again show their qualities as young footballers while playing with a team spirit and commitment that has been a pleasure to coach. We will be clear and prepare the players the best we possibly can for us to go to Anfield and win the game. The players have belief and trust in one another to cause yet another upset.”
Stack, Hart and Lead Under-23 Professional Development Coach Hayden Mullins went to Gigg Lane to watch Liverpool thrash Bury 5-1 in the quarter-final. Their chief threat is posed by forwards Bobby Duncan and Paul Glatzel, who have scored 52 goals between them this season, including 10 in the FA Youth Cup.
“It gave an insight into what we may come up against,” said Hart. “Liverpool have some good quality individuals as you’d expect, but the lads know on our day we can give anyone a game. We’ve had a tough draw in the Youth Cup and have overcome some big clubs. We will respect them but not fear our opponents. We should have a good support up there, lots of family and friends, and there has been no motivation needed for training this week. The lads are so excited.”
No-one will be more excited than Ryan Cassidy. He has scored six goals in this season’s competition – as many as Liverpool’s Glatzel – and hopes to extend that run at the famous ground of the team he supports.
“Ryan’s working hard as well as the rest of the team, but he will ultimately only put the chances away which are created for him from midfield players, from defenders, from goalkeepers and at the moment he’s more than often hitting the back of the net and therefore a lot of our work goes into those chances leading up to him,” said Hart.
Stack won the FA Youth Cup with Arsenal in 2000 so knows all about what it takes to perform in the business end of this competition. He is relishing coaching a team as much as he did playing in goal for one.
“I still get the buzz before the game which is very similar to how it was when I was a player, but perhaps the biggest difference between playing and coaching is that it’s now completely out of my control come kick-off time whereas obviously when you are a player and you’re involved in these types of games you can make a difference and perform and the coaches sit back as such,” he said.
“The shoe’s on the other foot now. Our work gets done in the build-up to the game and then the onus is on the players to go out and perform, like when I was a player and I ended up lucky enough to go on and win it.”
This is the furthest the Hornets have gone in the competition since they got knocked out by Tottenham Hotspur in 2005, and now they are bidding to reach the final for the first time since 1989.
“The biggest thing about a cup run is not just what it brings to the players, but what it brings to the club in general,” said Stack. “You know the sense of progression and development and it’s clear that success on the pitch breeds confidence and that bodes well for next season. It then, of course, becomes attractive for young players to join what we’re trying to build here as a club.”
The winner of Sunday’s showdown will meet either Manchester City or West Bromwich Albion away in the one-legged final next month.
Tickets costing £3 (adults) or £1 (over-65s, young adults & juniors) will be available in person at the Anfield Ticket Office up to 10am on matchday. There will be no ticket sales after this point.