Brighton & Hove Albion joint under-18s coach Mikey Harris was full of praise for his side’s latter half of the campaign when he reflected on the 2018/19 season.
The young Seagulls won eight of their last nine matches to end the year in fifth position in the U18 Premier League South, and the Albion coach reflected positively on the club’s highest finish since getting Category One status.
He said, “It’s been a season of two halves, we were very excited going into the start of the campaign because we had a good pre-season as well – I think we struggled within games at the start of the season, there were matches where we’d have a really good first half and then drop off.
“But that’s what you get with this age group, there will always be a little bit of inconsistency at this level, and we just got punished for that at the start of the season."
The side reached the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup following memorable away victories over West Ham United and Manchester United, and Harris singled out that run in the competition as being pivotal in turning the team’s fortunes around.
“The real turning point probably came with the cup win over West Ham United, coming back in the manner in which we did and going on to win the game on penalties was massive for the boys and gave them a lot of confidence and belief.
“We’d always had that, and we knew they were a strong group with lots of potential, but that night was the moment when they started believing too.
“The subsequent run was great – the win over Manchester United was huge and that showed them again that they could go on and keep winning, which we’ve done since the new year.
“Even in the first couple of games of the league season against teams like Arsenal we felt we could have won the matches, and they’ve actually gone on to win the league this season and on the day, we had the better chances.
“After the games with Arsenal and Tottenham at the start of the calendar year we really kicked on and have ended up winning eight out of our last nine, at any level and in any environment that’s a fantastic achievement and one we’re pleased with.
“The biggest result probably has to be the win away to Chelsea, that was only the second game they’d lost at under-18 level since 2015, so that was another big result which we deserved to win, much like the Manchester United victory in the cup.”
Harris also spoke of the aims and objectives that his and Mark Beard’s side can take into next season, highlighting the club's desire to continue to progress each year.
“As a group of staff, we’ll always review what we can do better next season and getting that consistency right throughout the campaign will definitely be something we will look at,” he continued.
“It’s about how we get the boys able to get to grip with the demands of the level quicker – but that’s just the element of the age group you’re working with. Some don’t have the experiences to draw on yet and it’s something we have to give them in different ways.
“As always, the targets and aims for next year will be to try and get as many players into the under-23s as we possibly can – we had more players in there this season than the campaign before, so that’s progress and then it’s about building on that and surpassing it.
“The ultimate challenge for the academy as a whole is to get players into the first team – as an under-18 team it’s about bettering our statistics and results from previous seasons.
“We’ve had the highest finish that the group has had since we’ve been Category One, and now we have to go and beat that next season because nobody ever wants to stand still – the challenge has increased and we have to continue to want to achieve.”