Academy manager Richard Cooper has said he was ‘pleased as punch’ to see Stags’ under-23s progress to the group stage of the Premier League Cup.
A Mansfield Town XI won in dramatic fashion with a late penalty to make it 3-2 away at Salford City on Wednesday, in the Premier League Cup’s qualifying round.
The Stags will now field an XI against Leeds United under-23s, Sunderland under-23s and Wigan Athletic under-23s in the competition’s group stage.
Cooper says he was delighted to see some of the academy’s young players perform so well in Wednesday’s clash at the Peninsula Stadium.
“As an academy and a football club, it’s a great achievement to reach the group stages [of the Premier League Cup]. It’s all very new to us,” Cooper explained.
“To ‘mix it’ with these types of teams, it gives us six games [three home, three away] against Leeds, Wigan and Sunderland, it hopefully brings a lot of positives for the club.
“I was pleased as punch yesterday for the young lads [who played in the game] and because of where the academy is heading as a whole.
“Yes, we have a games programme for our young lads, but now we also have access to that ‘next tier,’ in terms of us pitching our players against a Premier League under-23 side.
“From a development point of view, it certainly gives you an indication of where your players are at and what level we’re at.”
The academy manager described the game in further detail, highlighting the performances of makeshift centre-backs James Clarke and Keaton Ward, along with academy youngsters Taylor Anderson and Curtis Davies.
“We were really pleased with the game from a performance point of view and obviously the result. The game had a bit of everything.
“They scored a very good first goal, then Jason Law puts a good free-kick in, with James Clarke scoring a great header to pull us level.
“In the second-half we flew out of the blocks and put in a really good shift. Jimmy [Knowles] got us the goal with a swivel and hit to put us 2-1 up.
“Ethan [Hill] then unfortunately got his second yellow card which resulted in a sending off, so then we had to manage the last 20 minutes with ten men and young players on the pitch. For their learning, it was absolutely brilliant.
“They got an equaliser deep into added time, so we’re thinking ‘right, we’re now going to have to get through another 30 minutes.’
“But we kept the ball alive, Tyrese [Sinclair] ended up putting in a long throw, then James Clarke wins us a penalty. Tyrese dispatched it with seconds to go to put us into the group stages.
“In terms of standout performances, young Taylor Anderson, as a 16-year-old at right-back, it was a great experience for him.
“Curtis Davies is a second-year scholar playing in the game, and the two centre-halves, James Clarke and Keaton Ward, were magnificent.
“I think the standout performer on the pitch was Keaton Ward. He was immense at centre-back. I think he was the best player on the pitch by a country mile.”
More positive news from the academy is that goalkeeper Owen Mason was recently called up to the Republic of Ireland under-19 squad for a three-day training camp, and under-15 goalkeeper Harrison Leech was called up to England’s goalkeeping development squad.
“Owen has been to a previous camp with Ireland, and reports from Ireland have told us that he’s done very well,” Cooper said.
“He’s had three very good days again with Ireland over the weekend, which we’re very proud of.
“Young Harrison got called into the England goalkeeping development squad at the weekend and returns to us tomorrow.
“It’s another feather in Harrison’s cap in terms of his progression, and we’ll look forward to hearing the feedback from England.”