BY MATT VERRI
Millwall’s Larry McAvoy insists his U18 side will not arrive at Stamford Bridge fearing Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup.
The South Londoners face the toughest of tests in the quarter final, against a club who have won the competition in seven of the last 10 years and dismantled Wolves 7-0 in the last round.
But the U18s joint boss has taken confidence from Millwall’s impressive run to this point, and urged his youngsters to relish the big stage. The tie takes place at Stamford Bridge on February 27 (7pm).
The away side have been handed an initial allocation of 1,000 tickets which are expected to quickly sell out.
“It’s going to be a great night for the boys, and one they’ll probably remember for the rest of their lives,” McAvoy said.
“We’re really looking forward to it, and we’re going to attack the game – we’ve got nothing to lose.
“Everyone has to be the best version of themselves, playing to their maximum potential, just to give us a chance. We can’t carry anybody, our boys know that.
“In the FA Youth Cup, it’s under floodlights with a good crowd, and it’s the games where winning is everything, more important than the performance. It’s great exposure for the boys.
“Everyone is expecting Chelsea to be too strong and we’re fully aware of how good they are, but we’re confident in our group of players. I think Chelsea will show us the respect we deserve.
“They invest heavily in their academy and the 11 they pick will probably all be internationals, but we’re excited and quietly confident we can go there and put on a good performance.
“Nights like these really test the boys. You certainly notice the difference in them when they’re playing in the FA Youth Cup, even their goal celebrations show it means more. But that’s fine, we want them to experience the pressure and the nerves.
“This is what it’s going to be like when they play in first teams.
“It’s great for us coaches to stand back and watch – some boys freeze, and some boys thrive on it. It’s about them playing the game, not the occasion.”
Millwall cruised through their first match in the competition this season with a 7-0 win over Bolton in the third round, but the fourth round produced a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Fleetwood.
The South Londoners led 2-0 away to Bournemouth in the last round before being pegged back to 2-2, but secured their place in the quarter finals with a late winner and McAvoy feels the manner of those tough wins stand Millwall in good stead.
“The game against Bolton was very comfortable, everyone wanted to get on the ball,” he said.
“But at 1-0 down against Fleetwood at half time, and then having a man sent off, that’s when you find out about the boys. We weren’t very good but we won, and that’s a great learning curve.
“You don’t want it to be easy for them all the time, you want them to be tested and put in situations where they have to solve problems.
“They did that against Fleetwood and Bournemouth, really showing what we’re about as an academy and a football club. This team have tremendous character and work ethic.”
It’s not just been a successful season in the FA Youth Cup for the U18s, who also sit top of their Development League and as the top scorers at that level.
That firepower has often come from Abdul Abdulmalik and Sean O’Brien, with both players scoring in all three rounds of the cup run so far.
“Abdul against Bolton had a bit of a quiet night, but he still got his goals, and Sean has also got some really important goals for us – they’ve both been brilliant,” McAvoy said.
“We score a lot of goals, the most in our league, so when we defend well we know we’ll score the goals we need to.
“It’s a strong group of players coming through the academy, as the league and this cup run shows.
“The most important thing is to get these players pro contracts and push them on into the U23s, but it’s brilliant to have games with such importance.
“I hope there’s a lot of Millwall fans who can come and watch at Stamford Bridge, because these nights don’t come around very often.
“It’s in a beautiful stadium against a London rival – it would be brilliant for as many fans as possible to come and support us. The boys would thrive on that.”
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS
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