Wood praises first-team pair ahead of Bradford cup tie
Neil Wood is hoping the positive influence of Dean Henderson and Phil Jones will rub off on his Manchester United youngsters in the Papa John's Trophy tie at Bradford City.
The clash with the Bantams is the second group fixture for the Under-21s, following a 3-2 defeat at Lincoln City, with holders Sunderland also in the section.
Kicking off at 19:00 BST on Tuesday, the action from the Utilita Energy Stadium will be shown live on MUTV and it promises to be a cracking atmosphere to help develop the Reds' education of senior football.
Wood has been able to utilise first-team duo Henderson and Jones as they recover from illness and injury respectively and their contributions in the recent games against Arsenal and Brighton extend way belong the playing field.
"I think any first-team player helps but especially experienced players, definitely," the coach replied, when asked about the positive influence of having the senior pros on board.
"Dean’s played for England and Jonah has played so many games for United. He’s a great professional and it’s great to have him around, whether it’s training or playing in a game. He looks to do the right things and wants to help the young players as well, which is a great credit to him.
“Dean as well. After the Arsenal game, they spoke in the dressing room and gave advice out to the younger players on what it takes to be able to play and compete at the highest level because they’ve got experience of that. That was amazing of them to pass their thoughts on to the young players. Hopefully it’s something the young lads will take in and learn from."
Wood is aware his side need to learn from mistakes made in the 3-2 loss at Lincoln, when the hosts secured a three-goal lead at Sincil Bank, only to have to withstand a late rally from the Reds, with Charlie McNeill and Bjorn Hardley both on the scoresheet.
"I think we had a lot of the ball and a lot of possession in the first half," he recalled. "We didn't have enough movement ahead of the ball. We were getting to certain points up the pitch but had to keep turning back as there was not enough movement and running off the ball for midfielders to be able to play through, in front of them.
“We addressed that but the goals were kind of our mistakes really, naive mistakes you can't make in that competition as you'll get punished playing against experienced first-team players, who are ready to jump on any little mistake. To be honest, all three goals were our mistakes and we could have defended them better. Individually, we could have been better in the lead up to those goals.
“Towards the end, the last 25 minutes, I thought we were the team on top and were playing some really good football. I felt like we were putting on a lot of pressure and they couldn't get out of their half. We were really on top of them and the little crowd were getting behind the lads and you could feel that as well. We had good attacks and ended up getting back into the game. Charlie McNeill's was an excellent goal, and a great through ball by Shola Shoretire, that he hit first time with his left foot to get us back into the game. With Bjorn scoring our second from a corner, I was thinking we were going to get something out of this game. That was the mentality and the confidence was starting to boil at that point.
“But it was a lesson for us. We can't go into these games lightly and can't just keep possession without creating chances. We have to really defend resolutely and concentrate on making sure we're not falling to naive mistakes and playing into their hands by doing what they want us to do. We did that with their goals and it was a big learning curve and a big lesson we can take into the Bradford game."
Bradford are fancied to challenge for promotion out of League Two but were held to a 1-1 draw by Barrow last time out.
A healthy travelling contingent is expected to head across the Pennines to cheer on the young Reds and provide that extra bit of senior experience for another difficult examination against the West Yorkshire outfit.
"I think it's a great stadium and one of the biggest stadiums we can play at," commented Wood. "If we've got a decent crowd there, it's even better for our young players to experience playing in front of a good crowd. It's going to be a challenging game and not easy as Bradford are a good team. We've played against a Derek Adams team before so we half-know what to expect.
“I think we have to concentrate more on us, though. We have got to get better at the defensive side of the game. We have to stay in games a little bit longer and try to score first and hold on to the game rather than coming from behind. That's the challenge I've put to the players recently as we're giving ourselves such a hard job if we're going one or two goals behind and fighting back. Let's see if we can stay in the game and stay really strong and solid.
“If we go 1-0 up, let's defend the lead a little bit and gain confidence and start to dominate the game with purposeful possession by imposing our style of play. That's the challenge. It's not an easy game to do it in as it'll be challenging but we have to strive to hit these standards and to get them to the level we want them to get to."