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Nicky Spooner backs team to keep cool against Millwall

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
After getting their weekend’s game at Stoke frozen off – Nicky Spooner hopes his Under-18s can keep their cool in the FA Youth Cup against Millwall tonight.

Wanderers held their nerve to claim a place in the third round with a penalty shoot-out victory against Burton Albion and will once again draw on several young players who have seen first team action this season.

As a result of the Stoke game being postponed, Spooner will be without two suspended players – D’Neal Richards and Nathan Whalley – who would have served out their ban on Saturday had the match stayed on.

But the Bolton coach is satisfied that his squad is well-prepared for the extra pressures of playing under the lights at the University of Bolton Stadium.

“In the last round we wondered how they would handle it but nobody froze, they played with freedom against Burton and I was happy with that,” he told The Bolton News.

“Obviously Matt Alexander came up with the goods, showed great concentration to save the penalty late on and he was excellent in extra time for us as well.

“But all in all it was a more mature performance, so I don’t have the same sort of concerns about whether they will handle the occasion.”

Many of the players who will be on show tonight have already had experience of playing in front of a home crowd, which Spooner feels will be a significant advantage.

“Sometimes when you play at home it can be quite intimidating,” he said. “It’s a big stadium, can feel quite empty, but a lot of these lads played against Coventry City and against Bradford City when there were a lot of supporters.

“Not many teams at this stage of the competition will have that in the bank, so I think it will stand them in good stead.”

Supporters can come as watch the game, which kicks-off at 7pm, for £3 adults and £1 concessions.

Spooner and Gavin McCann will be in the dugout looking to get into the fourth round for the second season running – and, potentially, create some lasting memories.

“I think the lads love playing in this competition and I think even the ones who go on to the next level and make a career out of the game look back and remember their experiences in the FA Youth Cup,” he said.

“They are the nights you want, and even if you don’t go on to play professionally you look back and can say ‘I played with him’ and ‘look at him now’.

“We did great last year beating Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park and then Newcastle United at home before we lost to Leicester City in the fifth round. They are the sort of memories you want to make, and I really hope the lads take full advantage.”

With the likes of Sonny Graham, Joe White, DeMarlio Brown-Sterling, Eddie Brown, Finlay Hurford-Lockett and Callum King-Harmes in the ranks, Spooner has once again found his options boosted ahead of the Millwall game.

“Other than the suspensions and a couple of illnesses we’re full strength and been given permission from the gaffer to select the same sort of squad,” Spooner added.

“I’ve been really pleased with the attitude the lads have shown. Their discipline and work-rate has been top class while we have been preparing, so I think they are in a good place to go and show that against Millwall on the pitch.

“There is a little bit more pressure on your shoulders when you play in front of your own fans at the stadium, a little bit more expectation perhaps. But a lot of these lads have had a sample of what it takes at the next level so they will be more relaxed. I don’t expect anyone to freeze.”

Millwall, who won the competition in 1979 and 1991 and finished runners-up in 1994, were narrowly beaten at this stage by Tottenham last year and are coached by ex-Wimbledon and Charlton defender Chris Perry.

They currently top the southern section of the Professional Development League and have scored a whopping 20 goals in their four matches in November.


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