Under 23s

Collins | ‘Promotion would be the real icing on the cake’

7 min read

James Collins believes earning promotion with his development side would be just reward for what has been an outstanding second half of the season for Wolves under-23s.

In one of the biggest matches of the season for the under-23s on Tuesday evening, Collins and his players will be facing Norwich City in the Premier League 2 play-off semi-final at Molineux, and having lost out on the chance to claim a promotion and cup double in the PL Cup final on Friday night, the head coach believes his players are ready to ‘go again’ as they look to return to the top-tier of youth football.  

Season ticket holders and members can get free entry into Molineux for the 7pm kick-off on Tuesday 17th May, but must claim their ticket in advance. For non-season ticket holders, tickets cost £4 for adults, £2 for over-65s and under-21s, while under-17s can gain free entry.

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On recovering from Premier League Cup final loss

“Friday took a lot out of the players, having gone through 120 minutes and penalties, with a big crowd, and I felt we put everything into it, so there was a frustration from our point of view that we’d done more than enough to win the tie.

“To then get that disappointment at the end of the game, it does take the stuffing out of you. We rested and recuperated on Saturday and then on Sunday we tried to lift their spirits with a social day and some games, and that got them going again.

“By Sunday morning, the lads were ready to go again, so hopefully they’ve got Friday out of their system, learned from it in their own ways, and are ready to go for Tuesday night.”

On the motivation to end season on a high

“It’s difficult to say Friday’s given them added motivation because the boys are motivated anyway to try to achieve promotion through the play-offs. We knew quite early on in the season, and almost by Christmas, that Fulham were away and gone and had already won the league, so the only thing you can then fight for is finishing in the play-off spots and try to go up through that route.

“We did that very well, managed to finish second in the league and only lost one game since Christmas, including Friday night which we drew, so to have that sort of record since Christmas is terrific. The lads are always confident they can do well, but for added motivation, I think whenever you see somebody else win something or you lose something, you get that feeling of wanting to put it right as quickly as possible.

“What Tuesday night does do for us, in front of a crowd at home, is that it gives us the chance to banish that. If on Tuesday night we come out with a win and a good performance, Friday won’t be forgotten about, but it will be put to the backburner and push us towards the final.”

On the advantage of playing at Molineux

“The crowd at the Hawthorns was unbelievable and the away support blew me away. To see that sort of support for an under-23 fixture, away from home, I know it’s only down the road, but it’s still pay to get in and away from home, so for that many fans to turn up and make the noise that they made it was absolutely fantastic and I can’t thank them enough.

“Hopefully we can get that sort of noise at home because I’m not sure Norwich will bring that many, so it would give us the edge of having our fans getting behind the boys and creating that atmosphere for them.

“It will be great to see as many supporters as possible, I know the boys will appreciate it, and the fans who have come to the games have seen an exciting brand of football, goals, nice moves and positive football, so I hope it’s another enjoyable evening for those who do come and watch and support the boys.”

On prioritising performance over results

“Performance is always number one. But when you get to these sorts of games, if you can find a way to win, that’s a skill in itself and a really important skill for young footballers to develop. Our number one priority is to play well and win.

“On Friday night, I wouldn’t swap our performance for West Bromwich Albion’s performance. I thought we were by far the better team, we played by far the better football, and we had by far the better players, and that’s not being disrespectful to West Brom, it’s credit to them because they won the game, but I wouldn’t take the trophy and swap our players for theirs.

“In under-23 football, the results never come first, but in these big moments, the football we’ve played up until this point, I think deserves a reward and hopefully on Tuesday and if we get to the final, we can get that reward with a promotion.

“If not, we’ve still had a brilliant season, especially a brilliant second half to the season, and more importantly, we’ve got plenty of players who will get close to our first-team, in our first-team, or fantastic loan opportunities, which is what it’s all about.”

On learning from previous meetings with Norwich

“We can take something from both times we’ve played them this season. They beat us comfortably 5-0 early on in the season, and we beat them recently 2-0, but the personnel might be very different.

“I know they’ve got a lot back from loans and one or two who have been in the first-team squad will play, so it’ll be a tougher test than when we played them recently. But we also rested a few that night ourselves, so it should be a really good game.

“What they are is a really energetic, attacking team, and we’ve been playing some good attacking football recently, so it should be a really exciting game for the supporters to see, with some good players on show, and hopefully we can come out on top.”

On what promotion would mean to the squad

“Promotion would be the real icing on the cake. We’ve got a terrific bunch of staff here who work their socks off to get the players to perform the way they have this year. That’s from sport scientists, analysts, nutritionists, coaches and also the staff lower down in the Academy system because a lot of this team have come through the other age categories.

“They’ve played with Steve [Davis] in the under-18s, before that in the 16s with ‘Sharpsy’ [Ian Sharps] and Wes [Hughes] and I can go down and down for the younger age groups. Everybody’s played their part and it will be great at the end of the season for us to reward that work everybody’s put in over however many years with these boys with a promotion.

“That would be the real cherry on the cake.”


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