STEVE Hale continues his diary from Northern Ireland...
AFTER the County Armagh victory we took the players down to the Coleraine show grounds again this time to watch Manchester United against Strikers FC from South California in the Premier section (under 17). It was a faster-paced game than the previous evening's international game with Manchester United passing it round well with a young Spanish player in midfield dominating the game. This was another good game for our players to watch and learn from some of the best young players in the country.
Today we went into our third game of the Milk Cup against Southern Irish side Dundalk. We started the game brightly with Jake Evans giving a captain's performance with an influential display in the heart of our midfield. With only six minutes gone Evans rose to send a looping header over the Dundalk goalkeeper to put us one up. The lead was doubled in the 14th minute when, after a great passing move from one side of the pitch to the other, Jack Richardson was put through and he cleverly lifted the ball over the advancing goalkeeper for a 2-0 lead. We were now in total control and looking to build on that lead but just before half time a needless free kick was given away right on the edge of the box and we were punished when the Dundalk forward drilled the ball into the bottom corner to give them hope.
In the second half Dundalk came out determined to get the equaliser but again Evans bossed the midfield and we created numerous clear-cut chances. In the space of ten minutes alone Tyreke Johnson and Jabari Hylton both had shots hit the crossbar and then Jack Richardson hit the post when through on goal. Further chances were created but wasted with the Dundalk goalkeeper doing well on three occasions. As we pushed for further goals we were dealt a huge blow when in the final minutes a shot heading straight for our goalkeeper was deflected by Sam Fletcher into the goal for a 2-2 draw.
All of the players and staff were left devastated as once again it had been a good performance. Despite the disappointment it was a harsh but good lesson for the players that they have to be more clinical in front of goal and take their chances and also a lesson on running the clock down and seeing the game out to ensure three points.
Now that we have completed the initial group games we have unfortunately not qualified for the main Milk Cup but instead we go through into the Vase section of the tournament with our opponents yet to be decided at the time of writing.
After the game today we took the players to watch Premiership sides Liverpool take on Southampton in the same age category as us and what a game that was. Liverpool found themselves 1-0 and 2-1 down but came back to win 4-2 and again it was good for our players to see players at the same age but at a higher category Academy and what standards they should be striving for.
We would like to thank the Swindon Town Supporters Club who have once again funded this trip. This tournament is a very important part of our players development but obviously there are costs to enter. This year Roger Bunce who is Chairman of the supporters club was due to travel with us but sadly he sustained a broken arm and was unable to come so we send our best wishes to him and thank him and the supporters for their continued support.
On the subject of fans, for the last eight years we have had one loyal fan from Ireland follow us around the tournament. Andy Stewart has become a bit of a celebrity amongst the squad each year as he is a colourful character who we always enjoy involving during the week.