Albion under-23s start their Premier League 2 campaign at Derby County tonight (7pm) hoping to build on last season’s ninth placed finish.
After a busy pre-season, head coach Andrew Crofts says he can’t wait to get going.
“We’re really looking forward to the new campaign. When you start pre-season you always have that first competitive game in the back of your mind and all the work that you have to do to go into that first game.
“It always comes round quicker than you expect but we’ve had a really good pre-season and the group are really looking forward to the first game.”
A number of Albion’s under-23 players spent time with the first team in pre-season and Graham Potter gave minutes to the likes of Ayo Tanimowo, Marc Leonard and James Furlong. Crofts was delighted to see the youngsters get their chance.
“It was excellent to see them getting exposed to that environment and the challenges they have to face,” added Crofts. “It was a really good experience in lots of different ways for them and hopefully they’re now all physically and mentally ready for the busy season ahead.”
Crofts is also readying himself for his first full campaign as head coach. “I’m really excited. I love a new challenge. I think everyone’s always looking for that next big test. For me this is the next step. It's something I have really enjoyed so far and I had a good taste of it for the final three or four months of last season.
“We’ve got a fantastic group of players and staff. The academy and first team are so well joined up, I think everyone’s pulling in the right direction.
“I’m going to attack it with open eyes and bundles of energy, and hopefully help the young players try and take their next step.
Albion finished last season in encouraging form, with back-to-back wins and a final day draw against Everton securing a ninth-placed finish. This season, Crofts is determined to continue the development of his players and team.
“It’s about setting the best possible standards every day, he added. “If young players can get those habits and set those standards quickly and consistently they will give themselves the best possible chance. Hopefully that gets them closer to their dream of being in the first-team squad come the end of the season."
The best way to set high standards quickly will be with victory at Derby on the opening night of the season.
“Derby teams are always difficult to play against. Since I’ve been involved with the 23s, all four of the games against Derby have been tough," said Crofts. “They are going to be full of high energy and every team in the first game of the season is going to be up for it. We’re under no illusions, but it’s a test we’re really looking forward to.”
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