Youth boss proud of team's achievements
Paul Driver’s post-match Tweet pretty much summed up feeling after his Under-18 side bravely bowed out of the FA Youth Cup at the quarter-final stage at Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night.
“Words can’t match the pride I have in this group,” tweeted the coach afterwards. “Outstanding effort AGAIN. When the hurt goes, they will realise what they have achieved.”
It rung true because the Town more than matched their Premier League academy hosts but ultimately an early deflected free-kick from Rovers’ Lewis Hardcastle consigned the young Hatters to heartache.
“A lot of them are down in the dressing room,” Driver said afterwards. “But there’s a massive sense of pride of everything they’ve achieved this season.
“We’ve told them they can hold their heads high. They’re down because, for a number of reasons, individually and collectively, that wanted to get through.
“At the moment there is disappointment, but the fact remains that they have been outstanding.
“To come here and give a strong Category 1 side that good a game we can’t be anything but proud.”
It was Rovers goalkeeper Andy Fisher who proved to be the Hatters’ nemesis with a string outstanding stops thwarting the Town – with one in particular from Jack Snelus from the very top drawer.
“I was off down the touchine! I thought that was in,” admitted Driver. “It was top save and it was the difference between losing and taking the game to extra-time.
“There’s a touch of misfortune about their goal, it’s come off the wall – it’s one of those things. There’s a deflection at one end for them and then there was brilliance at the other end from their keeper.”
But all is not lost for the Hatters this season.
Having already lifted the South East Youth Alliance title, attention now turns to winning the Youth Alliance League Cup – the competition for all 50 Category 3 academy clubs in the EPPP system.
The Town take on Swindon at Kenilworth Road a week on Thursday [3rd March] in the area final and Driver hopes his side can put on a performance for the home faithful as they aim to reach the national final later in the season.
“We’ve got to come out and prove that we are, by a country mile, the best Cat-3 club,” he said. “We want to put on a show in the Swindon game and I hope we can a good crowd in.
“We’ve said the season’s not over: there’s potentially two more cup finals and all the players have something to play for.”
Driver’s last word went for the Hatters supporters, with almost 200 making the journey to Ewood Park which created a superb atmosphere among the 700-strong crowd.
“The support was great,” he said. “It was ridiculous…there was one move in the first half that the keeper saved and there was such a roar from behind me I almost ducked! It was tremendous for so many fans to come here.
“The reason they came all this way was to watch the kids was because of what the team had done before.
“Nothing we say can stop the players from being down and tearful, but the best tonic is something to aim for – and that’s next Thursday against Swindon.”