New Bucks Head Ground

Thursday 13th January 2022 -  19:00
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Southampton
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Albion PL2 boss Richard Beale has been delighted with the way the first team have “embraced” the club’s academy this season.

The PDP manager believes Taylor Gardner-Hickman and Tom Fellows’ recent appearances in the Sky Bet Championship are “testament” to the hard work they’ve shown in senior training sessions, but also in PL2 games this term.

And the young Baggies have a strong platform to build off in 2022, sitting top of Group A ahead of their first game of the new year against Southampton in the Premier League Cup on Thursday night (ko 7pm).

Despite several youngsters stepping up, either to the senior side or away on loan, Beale is looking forward to seeing more of the Under-18s grasp their opportunity during the second half of the campaign as he assesses a successful start to his time at The Hawthorns.

“It’s been great to see as many lads around the first team as there has been,” said Beale.

“Being at the Cardiff game and watching Taylor and Tom starting was a big fillet for the academy and is testament to the way our staff and the first team work together. It’s been really pleasing to see more boys training with the senior side too and that shows how much the club is embracing the academy.

“Having a strong mindset is the biggest attribute a youngster can get at this age, between 17-23.

“Players are usually at a certain technical level, but from then on it’s about how quickly they can take on information, how hard they’re willing to work and how quickly they can adapt to the demands of first-team football.

“The Championship is a very demanding league and only the best will get through to that level. So you have to try and be your best every day and the likes of Caleb, Tom, Taylor, Ethan, Zac do that and that's why they’re in and around the first team.

“It’s been great seeing the first team looking at the academy and trusting the boys we have to help them and it’s really pleasing those lads are getting time on the pitch. Those minutes will only bring their games on and then there are other lads underneath them now who are chomping at the bit to take their place.

Josh Shaw has stepped up this term in the absence of PL2 regulars

“The loans process helps with that and often it’s a really important step but a lot of the lads who’ve got into the first team have done so because of how they’ve performed when they’ve stepped up in training, as well as in the PL2 games.

“Every single day counts and it’s important that the players understand that process because you have to be on it and can never have a day off it. The boys must recognise you can’t have a day off being at your best, being a good pro or having the right attitude because if they do, they will get found out.

“There’s always players coming through and we want to make those teams the most successful and the ones I’ve seen through my career as a coach have always been young sides. Time with the first team or out on loan will show the club whether they have what it takes to perform at this level or not. We have to make good decisions on those players and give them the right platforms to express themselves and reach their potential.

“Everything we do is about development but make no doubt about it, we’re training the lads to become winners. We want to win every single game and it’s been great that they’ve enjoyed that feeling so many times this season and long may that continue.

"We also want to get players out on loan and push younger lads through, so we may end up going into games with younger teams and that is the bigger picture. The likes of Taylor and Tom will have played in younger teams during their time with the academy and we’re now looking at the wider process of them being around the first team, and that's what it’s all about.

“Southampton is going to be a tough game for us and we’ve got a busy month ahead with them, Villa and Blues coming up.

“So it's a really good month of fixtures where lots of players will get lots of football. They’re going to have to work really hard and Southampton are a big club who’ve pushed a lot of academy players through themselves, have a good setup and we’ll have to be at our best to get a good performance and result.”

How to follow the game

Tickets will be available for Albion's PL Cup clash against Southampton at the New Bucks Head.

Supporters can purchase tickets on the night at the gates where prices are set at £5 for adults, and just £1 for juniors.

Free entry for season ticket holders is not available for this fixture.

Reyes Cleary's last-gasp equaliser helped push Albion closer to the knockout phases of the Premier League Cup following their 2-2 draw with Southampton. 

Ramello Mitchell's goal gave the Saints a first-half lead, but Dynel Simeu's red card at the start of the second 45 helped the Baggies back into the game. 

Jamie Andrews' spot-kick levelled terms before Kazeem Olaigbe put the visitors back in front, but forward Cleary was on-hand to convert in the closing stages to take the hosts' tally to 10 points at the top of Group A. 

Credit: GEvans Photography

It was a bright start from the Baggies, who found plenty of space to exploit down the left wing during the opening 20 minutes.

Cleary smashed the near post, forced Saints stopper Ollie Wright into tipping a goal-bound effort inches past the framework, before Ray Tulloch did the same during a dominant opening period from Rich Beale’s men. 

But the game swung in Southampton’s favour as half-time edged closer.

Saints right-back Zuriel Otseh-Taiwo’s piercing ball down the right found it’s way through to forward Mitchell, who rounded Albion keeper Ted Cann on the edge of the box before squeezing the ball in from a tight angle to put the away side ahead.

And it could’ve been a tougher task for Beale’s side to digest at the interval had it not been for Cann’s intervention minutes before the end of the half, diving at full stretch to parry Kami Doyle's rasping effort around the post to ensure it remained 0-1 going into the second 45.

Despite the first 45 seeing little in the way of drama, Albion ensured there would be plenty to talk about with a much-improved performance after the break.

Simeu’s horrible challenge on Andrews prompted a straight red card to reduce the Saints to 10 men and from then on, the hosts took advantage.

Cleary used his strength well to win a penalty moments later, leaving captain Andrews to lash home the resulting penalty and level the scores.

Credit: GEvans Photography

However, Albion’s extra man counted for very little as they conceded again when forward Southampton attacker Kazeem Olaigbe fired a volley past Cann to restore the visitors’ lead.

This didn’t stop Beale’s men taking the game to the Saints, but they left it late to find a response and it was their leading talisman who found the answer after a scramble in the box fell invitingly into space, and Cleary obliged to lash in the response with 90 minutes on the clock.

Credit: GEvans Photography

And the Baggies, who could mathematically qualify before their next game in the competition, will be looking to secure another point in their final game against Arsenal to guarantee a place in the knockouts.

Albion: Cann; Williams, Trialist, Joshua; Teixeira, King (Wangusi 83), Andrews, Shaw; Windsor, Cleary, Tulloch (R.Richards 61).

Substitutes: Hollingshead, Machisa, M.Richards.