Albion's under-23s play Crawley Town in the Parafix Sussex Senior Cup final tonight.
Brighton & Hove Albion under-23s coach Simon Rusk believes the Parafix Sussex Senior Cup offers his players a beneficial experience in their development as young footballers, ahead of tonight’s showcase final against Crawley Town at the Amex, kick-off 7.45pm.
The Seagulls overcame Hailsham Town, Pagham, Crowborough Athletic and Eastbourne Borough en route to the final, and Rusk commented on the importance of embracing difficult conditions and utilising the squads at under-18 and under-23 level.
He said, “Football isn’t always about playing on a luxury pitch at Lancing, or at a training ground where everything is perfect. I get to see the players challenged in a different way.
“It might be a cold, Tuesday night with an awful pitch - no disrespect to any local non-league clubs - but it is a different challenge.
“It might be teams from a lower level of football but sometimes, those players at some stage might have been a young talent as well.
“We use the competition to blood some of the under-18s in the early stages of the tournament. I personally value it heavily.
“We’re really pleased to be in the final because we haven’t been in it for a couple of years. It’s valuable and certainly something we pay a lot of respect to as a club.”
A handful of under-23 players, including Ben White, Rob Hunt and James Tilley, have made appearances for Albion’s first team this season, and Rusk spoke about his role in preparing players to make that step up.
“That’s what we’re here to do. Part of the academy’s job, and mine at the older age group end of the scale, is to hopefully provide Chris with some support for his first team squad.
“Our aim is to get a player who can compete in the first team - that always has to be our target.
“Of course it’s a difficult job to do, because we have assembled such a quality group of first-team players, but we’re here to support the club in general and we’ve been lucky this year.
“The manager has given some really good opportunities in the EFL Cup and FA Cup to academy graduates, which is of course very pleasing. It’s good for the academy and also for the club as a whole.”
Albion’s season will be concluded against the Reds this evening, with Rusk’s team finishing eighth in the Premier League 2 (Division 2), and the Albion boss reflected on a promising campaign for his young side.
“Overall, we’ve had a really solid season. The group development has been good. There’s that balance in under-23s football of first team players coming in, having different age groups within the 23s and players at different stages of their careers.
“Combining everything and making sure every individual is working towards their individual goals at that specific time, is quite a balance.
“Overall though, they are a hardworking group and that has been reflected in a really solid season.”