Ricky Sbragia believes his Under-23s are able to exploit an abundance of pace in attack in order to overcome the physical nature of Premier League 2 Division 2.
The Reds have made an unbeaten start to the campaign and picked up away wins at Middlesbrough and Norwich to set things up nicely for the visit of Sunderland to Leigh Sports Village on Friday 19 October. In an exclusive interview with us, Sbragia explained how he feels his youngsters are adapting well to the challenges being thrown up.”I think we’ve played extremely well,” the head coach told MUTV.
“The players have got into a pattern of how we want to play and how we deal with things. The games have been very good for us, tough ones – Reading, Middlesbrough and Norwich. They were all hard games but we’ve come out of them well and playing some really good football.
“It’s a little bit more physical [than I expected]. But it’s good to match our talent against what they’ve got. Age-wise, a lot of the other teams are top heavy at over 23 or so. In general, it’s really good. It’s a good, strong squad and really close and tight as a group. Chongy [Tahith Chong] gives us a little bit of extra pace in behind.
“I think for us, and for most teams, there is always the threat to have that burst of pace. Angel [Gomes] has done well, Josh Bohui down the left and Zak Dearnley gives us pace down the middle. The front four is extremely quick with the threat behind and it’s really important we have that as well. We’ve showed in the last three or four games how good it is to have that in the team.”
Gomes, who is currently on England Under-19s duty, has adapted to a deeper central role of late, while a number of individuals have impressed Sbragia with their efforts.
“I think we started Angel wide left,” he explained.
“Where I thought he could float. After the Stoke game, I think, I decided to see how he would do in the middle. I asked him and he was okay about that and I thought he’s played extremely well since then. He’s kicked on and matured. He plays the position extremely well and what surprised me a little bit was his work ethic is really good off the ball. He’s helped the two sitters [in midfield] which, again, is important for us as well.
“I think George Tanner has come up from the Under-18s and done extremely well. Ro-Shaun [Williams] has good experience and Regan [Poole] helps him, being a year older. Lee O’Connor has been out of position playing left-back but has done well in general.
”Overall, if we’re looking at one coming from the Under-18s, it would be Jimmy [Garner], who has come from there. He seems a natural in that position [holding midfield] and doesn’t get fazed. He’s a good footballer who gives us the height we sometimes need in this division too. He just carries on, does his job, and there are no airs and graces about him. He makes sure he protects the two centre-backs and also ensures the gets the ball and feeds it into midfield.”
“The other thing about it is people are scoring goals and I think that’s extremely important for us.”