AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s / Malcolm Arnold Academy manager Darren Purse still maintains his aim of winning the The Football Conference Youth Alliance League with his young scholars.

After a shaky October, where the U18s were knocked out of two cup competitions and lost both league games, it left the manager questioning the attitude and mentality of his young players.

But now, the academy find themselves eight points off league leaders Histon with two games in hand, and are still to play a quarter-final David Joyce cup tie with Woodford United.

The scholars have been progressing well individually too, with Joe Ackroyd becoming the first ever player to come through the youth system and score a senior goal. And the likes of Ackroyd, Matt Pinder, Luke Garner and Harrison Desborough all breaking into the first team squad already this season.

Looking back on the season so far, Purse said he’s looking forward to the New Year.

“We had a couple of indifferent performances earlier on in the season. But it’s looking promising now. I’ve said to the lads, if we win our games in hand in the league, we’re right back in the mix. We have also still got to play Histon. Although they beat us quite comfortably away from home, we had a very young side that day because of injuries.”

Injuries haven’t helped Purse’s boys with five second year scholars injured, it is resulted in game time for the first years – who have impressed the manager.

“Over Christmas and into the New Year, we’re looking at getting all our injured players, back playing and fit. The main one is obviously Joe [Ackroyd] because he’s part of the 1st Team now as well, the fans have seen him play and he is the first scholar to score a senior goal, he’s a big player for us too.

But whilst the second years have been out, the first year lads that have come in and been playing, have really stepped up to the mark. I’ve seen a great improvement in them over the last three months or so, working with them day in day out. It’s been brilliant.”

 With the MAA boys just eight points off the top, Purse has kept his targets the same.

“Win the league, that’s our aim. And I said at the start of the season, to reach a cup final. We’re still in with a shot at both. I’m quietly confident of going on a good run in the new year, if we don’t win the league, we’ll be close to winning it.

Although we were knocked out of the FA Youth Cup, English Schools Trophy and the FCYA League Cup, we are still in the David Joyce Cup. We did well in the competition last year, and hopefully we can do well again this year. I want to at least get to the final, and pit our wits against a league opposition once again.

Going into the second half of the season, we need the experienced players to step up to the mark and produce the goods. But the way the first year lads are getting on, I’m really pleased. I’m looking forward to the New Year, it’s wet my appetite.”

The scholars return to action on 6th January and the David Joyce Cup Quarter-Final tie has been re-arranged for Monday 11th January (venue TBC).

You can keep track of the U18s progress by reading reports and manager comments HERE.

 
 
 

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