Interviews

Ruth: Under-21s have a lot of character

Head coach was delighted with his team's determination in victory against Valencia.

By Nick Szczepanik • 06 October 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
Shannon Ruth said his side had to show different qualities in their win over Valencia.

Men’s under-21 head coach Shannon Ruth praised his players’ character after an eventful and entertaining 3-2 victory over Valencia in the Premier League International Cup on Wednesday.

Not only did his team shrug off the disappointment of conceding two equalisers to win the match with Mark O’Mahony’s eighth goal of the season, but they also stood up for themselves and each other as their eighth successive game without defeat became a physical encounter at times.

Anyone who dismisses academy football as purely technical and tactical would have been taken aback. Referee Farai Hallam dished out eight yellow cards in a match full of committed challenges. In fact, it was something of a surprise that there were still 22 players on the field at the final whistle, when tempers flared briefly before handshakes were finally exchanged.  

“Under-21 football gets unfair criticism sometimes but people who were there saw a game that challenged the players in all ways,” Ruth said. “You saw a group of Brighton players who were not only technically very capable and played some nice football but also showed that there is a lot of fight and a lot of character in there.

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PL International Cup Highlights: Brighton 3 Valencia 2

“They are young men that are trying to carve out a senior career and I was delighted with the all-round performance. I’m really pleased with the character of the group. I’ve spoken before of how well they recover after any setback. 

“It can be hard to grow a team mentality when individuals are trying to make their mark but I always stress to players that being successful individually means helping the team to be successful collectively. The better we are as a group the more it helps you in your journey. Then when they make the step up to the first team, there is no surprise for them.”

O’Mahony’s winning goal, hit first-time from Benicio Baker-Boaitey’s low, hard cross, came minutes after he had missed another chance and hard on the heels of Valencia’s second leveller.

“Mark is in a really good moment but he would be the first to say that the team work very hard to create the chances that he gets,” Ruth said. “He is in such a confident place that he scores when he gets those chances.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Benicio Baker-Boaitey was influential in the win over Valencia.

Former West Ham winger Baker-Boaitey impressed on the left but also stopped a Valencia breakaway in the second half with a 50-yard recovery run, spotting the danger after Albion had lost possession.

“We’re pleased with Benny’s progress,” Ruth said. “He can cause opponents issues and his one-v-one capability is high, which is an asset for us. But to show the effort that he did to help us defend is a real plus because all players in his position like to go forward but they also have that responsibility to defend.”

The under-21s return to domestic action on Saturday at Swansea City (2pm).