STEVE Hale continues with his Milk Cup diary from Northern Ireland...
The Milk Cup is a fantastic tournament but also a very demanding one so therefore rather than take the players out to watch a game we let them have some downtime to relax and let their bodies and minds recover in preparation for our Vase Semi-final against Category Two Academy side Brentford.
Brentford are a good physical side who last year were the overall winners of the Milk Cup and we played them recently in a warm up game going down 3-1 so we knew our players would have to be at their best to overcome them. In the morning while the players rested after breakfast Academy Manager Jeremy Newton went through the DVD of the previous game to look at their strengths and weaknesses and work out a game plan.
We started the game really well and for the first 20 minutes were on top without really forcing their goalkeeper into any real saves. Brentford then had a passage of play just before half time where they started to show their strength and ability and it needed a superb save from a close-range half-volley from the in-form Connor Johns to keep the score at 0-0 going into half time.
With a few players starting to show tired legs from the demands of the week, in particular Jack Richardson who had played every minute so far as our main target man, Jeremy decided to change things around and brought on Jabari Hylton in the wide area and pushing Aiden Compton up front. The second half was end to end with both teams not giving an inch and working tirelessly but lacking quality in and around the penalty area. With ten minutes to go Compton was brought down in a wide area and Jake Evans whipped in a brilliant free kick which a diving Macauley Dodson glanced a header into the far corner to put us 1-0 up.
Fortune wasn't with us however as despite defending well throughout with one two minutes left a silly free kick was given away in a wide area. The cross came in and in a goalmouth scramble the ball was forced home to make it 1-1. Shortly after the final whistle blew taking it to a penalty shoot out reminiscent of the first team's play-off game with Brentford last season.
This penalty shoot out provided the same result as despite two brilliant penalty saves from Connor John, three of our players who had bravely stepped up to the plate to take them missed meaning we lost out 3-2 in the shoot out.
We have one final game of the week on Friday to determine where we finish out of 20 teams overall. Although the players and staff have endured a few disappointments thought the week so far there have certainly been many many positives. The actual performances in each game have been good, some very good and many lessons have been learnt. We have defended well as a team but have not been clinical enough in front of goal and ultimately that has been what has prevented us finishing with some silverware. We cannot fault the players' efforts and there are certainly some very tired players in the squad and so the final game will see some of the players who have not had so many minutes get their opportunity and we still want to finish as high as we can overall.