'Youngsters continue to show they're ready for step up'

Albion Under-21s ended their week with a fantastic 4-2 victory over Liverpool in Premier League on Saturday.

By Nick Szczepanik • 15 January 2024

By Kyle Hemsley
Albion made it three consecutive wins in all competitions, as they beat Liverpool on Saturday.

Men’s under-21 head coach Shannon Ruth enjoyed the challenge of picking a team to beat Liverpool on Saturday evening without nine players who were away with the Roberto De Zerbi’s squad for warm-weather training in Dubai. 

And his young side stepped up to beat a far more experienced Reds team 4-2. Ahead through Harry Howell’s second goal of a memorable week, Albion fell behind before the break but battled back in the second half with further goals from Louis Flower, Howell again and Jamie Mullins. 

“It is always an exciting moment when you are handing out opportunities to young players,” Ruth said. “When they are given those opportunities and when they are believed in, they can really perform and that is a common theme here at Brighton.  

“We are always challenging the players to be ready to grab opportunities because you don’t know when they will come. Whoever comes into the team, we expect a level of performance and they rose to that against Liverpool. The character and personality of the team was impressive – going behind and coming back. To have nine players away in Dubai and still beat a strong Liverpool team 4-2 with two under-15s and two scholars on the pitch shows the level of young player we have in the academy.” 

Howell, 15, had come off the bench on Tuesday to score the winning penalty in the shootout victory over Reading in the Bristol Street Motors EFL Cup. Against Liverpool he produced a dipping shot reminiscent of Pervis Estupinan’s goal against Tottenham and a calm finish from a pass by Flower.

By Paul Hazlewood
Jamie Mullins celebrates with Harry Howell after the youngster scored twice against Liverpool.

“First of all, it is a fantastic result on the end of an incredible week for the academy,” Ruth said. “Harry has certainly played his part with the deciding penalty on Tuesday and two really good goals today but his all-round performance was also very good. He competed, he helped us link play and he worked off the ball. He and Freddie [Simmonds, his England under-16 teammate] were really impressive for young players today.” 

Another player who stood out was former Preston North End defender Jacob Slater, who recovered from his penalty shootout miss against Reading to put in an excellent performance against Liverpool at wing back and then full back. He helped win the ball before the opening goal and laid on the equaliser for Flower with one of a number of accurate corner-kicks. 

“Jacob has been a really good signing for us,” Ruth said. “We knew the quality of player we were getting before we signed him and we found out very quickly what a fantastic personality he is and how resilient he is. He has moved away from home and gone about his work seriously. He is very driven and has become a player I can rely on and I know the type of performance I am going to get from him. We are very pleased with his development so far.” 

By Kyle Hemsley
Liverpudlian Jacob Slater put in an impressive performance against the Reds on Saturday.

Part of that development in young players involves putting disappointment behind them quickly. “At times against Liverpool when there were individual mistakes, they showed an ability to think only about the next action they were involved in, to clear their minds very quickly. They recovered well, kept going, kept trying and didn’t allow any disappointment to affect our mentality. 

“We know we play a style of football that is high-risk and high-reward. We are trying to prepare young players for Roberto and we know they will get it right sometimes and get it wrong at others. Today when they got it wrong they tried again and when they got it right, we caused Liverpool some problems.”  

A significant moment came at 3-2, when the wall blocked a free kick from the dangerous Liverpool captain Bobby Clark and the whole team seemed to join in a roar of delight. “Our philosophy is based on having the ball,” Ruth said. “But we know that for young players to have a successful senior career, defending for your life and hanging in there when things aren’t going so well is something you have to do and to enjoy. I thought they defended the box very well, bearing in mind that we went from a back three to a back four, and two of the back four changed. They adapted well and worked hard for each other.      

“We have an exciting second half of the season to look forward to. We are in the quarter-finals of the EFL Trophy and the Premier League International Cup and there are play-offs in PL2 with the new system there. Some of our players have had a flavour of the first team and they will be wanting more of that too. There is a lot for our players to keep pushing hard for.”