Brighton & Hove Albion’s under-23s concluded their pre-season trip to Portugal with a friendly against Rio Ave on Friday morning, and coach Simon Rusk reflected on a beneficial week for his players ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
In sweltering Portuguese heat, the Seagulls were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Rio Ave, with Peter Gwargis firing home a free-kick, as the players had their first taste of action since May.
Four days of training led into Friday’s pre-season match, and Rusk was left delighted by the commitment his players had shown throughout their time abroad.
He said, “It’s early days and the conditions were very hot all week, but in terms of the approach from the players and their attitude, it was exactly what we were looking for.
“The training facilities and location was really good and we were able to get some great work done. We’re looking for the players to get their fitness to where it needs to be.
“We’re also starting to embed some principles that we feel will be important for us moving forward — from that point of view it’s been a really pleasing week and we’ve made progress.”
After landing back in England, the players will now turn their attention to pre-season fixtures closer to home, and Rusk stressed the importance of reaching higher levels over the coming weeks.
“We’ll now look to take the training up a notch — we had the game today in very hot conditions and everyone has come through unscathed.
“Next week is about building those match minutes up and getting the players ready for where they need to be for the season ahead.
“With the nature of the under-23 group, some will undoubtedly be preparing to go out on loan and some will be staying with us for the under-23 campaign.
“Ultimately though, it’s about each individual getting themselves in the best shape possible for a long, hard season.”
Albion discovered their Checkatrade Trophy group on Friday afternoon, and Rusk spoke positively about the competition and the schedule his team will face between September and November.
“It’s a great draw for us, we’re really positive about the Checkatrade Trophy and think the opportunity is great for the development of the players.
“It’s a really good group for us, geographically, with Leyton Orient, Southend and AFC Wimbledon. They’ll be good tests for us, going to EFL environments, and it’s another challenge for us.
“I really enjoy the under-23 games programme, it’s challenging, but the Checkatrade Trophy offers something different.
“For the players that haven't gone out on loan at this moment in time, they’ll get to taste a first-team-type match and a different level of physicality.”