Youngsters' achievements can only be gauged by future first team success says Driver
Paul Driver says his side’s achievements this season will mean nothing unless members of the Town Under-18s are future first team regulars at Kenilworth Road.
Second-year scholars Frankie Musonda and James Justin both signed professional deals this season, with youth team skipper Musonda given his debut by Nathan Jones in the 2-0 win at Mansfield.
But of the current first team squad only Jake Howells and Zane Banton have progressed from the Town academy to go on and make their professional league debuts.
And manager Driver believes nurturing his successful group this season and developing them into players fit for Nathan Jones’s first team is the ultimate barometer for success.
“We did well in the FA Youth Cup and went to Huddersfield in the third round two years ago,” said Driver ahead of Wednesday night’s fifth round trip to Preston. “When I mention Huddersfield people ask ‘Huddersfield?’ They don’t remember we went there and nearly beat them. Huddersfield went onto beat West Brom and Manchester United but nobody remembers that we lost to them.
“Two of the Huddersfield players who played that day are now in their first team. In two or three years’ time we won’t remember this season unless there are two or three of this group playing out there for the first team. Only then will it spark a memory that we have achieved what we have this season.”
The Hatters youngsters have certainly experienced enough already to stand them in good stead in their future careers.
Tonight’s tie at Deepdale is the fourth successive tie under floodlights away from home following away trips to Leyton Orient, Notts County and Oldham.
“They’ve ticked a lot of the boxes,” said Driver. “They’ve done overnight stays, played against different styles of play, they’ve travelled north to Oldham, south to Bournemouth and west to Bristol in the League Cup. It’s all a learning curve.
“That experience is vital and that’s what we’ve got to prepare them for – and if there are three lads playing for Nathan out there only then will people remember this group.”
The Town first team squad gathered on Tuesday to wish good luck to their young colleagues at the training ground, while supporters on social media have been equally as proud of the team’s achievements so far this season.
And it’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Everyone has been very supportive,” says Driver. “You get the real feeling that the staff, players and supporters are behind the boys.
“There’s a genuine feeling that everyone is interested in what they’re doing.
“And the fact the manager’s style of play is close to what we try to do in the academy can only be a spur for the lads. They haven’t got to change their approach too much.
“Now that the boys have a manager in Nathan who wants to play the kind of football they’ve been introduced to into the academy, it can only be a big positive for them.”
Wednesday’s tie kicks-off at 7pm at Deepdale. The Sir Tom Finney stand [south] will be open for both sets of fans on the night – tickets are priced as £2 for adults and £1 for concessions – there will be cash entry at turnstiles with free entry for season ticket holders of both clubs.
For those who can’t make the game, Preston’s PlayerHD service will be offering a live video stream and commentary of the game. Hatters Player subscribers can log in using their usual details on Preston’s Player to access and watch the game.
We will also be live from Deepdale with live text updates together with post-match reports and reaction.