Late penalty deprives Academy team of opening day win

Head of Academy Darren Hare said he was absolutely delighted with the performance of his Under-18 side, despite the disappointment of conceding a penalty in the last few moments against the MK Dons on Saturday.

The Gills, courtesy of a trialist, took the lead midway through the first half, and after looking good to take all three points, a late goal from the spot deprived the hosts of what Darren felt was a much deserved victory.

Speaking to the club’s media team he said: "We finished 1-1 and I was disappointed for the boys more than anything that we didn’t go on to win the game.

“We conceded a penalty with three minutes to go which was a bit of a sucker punch and a bit harsh aswell. Speaking to the referee after the game he felt, from his angle, there was contact but from my angle there clearly wasn’t but sometimes you get those and sometimes you don’t.

“The overall performance was fabulous and I was really pleased. Milton Keynes Dons are one of the best footballing sides we will come up against.

“They have a proper full time academy, they invest heavily in their youth programme and they have a couple of England players who have come through their system.

“At times they pass the ball very well but, for me, they didn’t really go anywhere with it.

“They kept the ball in their own half and most of the better chances fell to us because we nicked it off them, recognised when to go and press and created chances as a result.

“Our trialist took his goal very well – Aiden Blanchard won the ball back and he’s a terrier around people’s ankles in midfield and sometimes you have to put a leash on him because he tries to do too many jobs.

“But on this occasion he got a toe in, released the striker and he scored with the outside of his foot on the half volley. Most would have taken it on their left but he took it on the right and it was a sublime finish.

“So we were 1-0 up after 20 minutes and for a lot of the game we had to concede possession to them, but we defended well and we did a lot of work on being narrow and trying to prevent forward passes in between our midfield players and centre-backs.

“When they got it in to wide areas we stopped a lot of the crosses. I was pleased with Sam [Muggleton] because his one-on-one defending was much improved, he did really well and I can’t remember a cross coming in from the right hand side.

“All in all, as a defensive and a counter attacking display goes, I was absolutely delighted. We didn’t keep the ball as well as we could possibly keep it but that’s me being picky.

“We had the better chances – Jack Sellens had a great chance to make it 2-0 from a Charlie Webster cross. It bounced just in front of him and it came in at an awkward height.

“He stooped down, couldn’t get enough power on it and the keeper saved quite easily.

“As a coach it is pleasing to see the players take on board what their challenges were and our attacking challenges were to catch them on the break and drive in to space.

“When we didn’t we recognised it and realised we had to try and keep it.

“The effort, the commitment and togetherness of the team was super.”

A few players were missing from the team due to short term injuries but Darren is encouraged that the work on the training ground is being transferred on to the pitch.

He added: “We are missing quite a few players already unfortunately, not with long term injuries but Greg Cundle got a whack after last week’s game against Hastings.

“Ross Ibbertson is struggling a bit with his hip flexor and Danny Leonard has only just come back so he was on the bench and Connor Hendricks is still three to four weeks away.

“I had quite a young side as some of them have been moved up to Mark’s team [the development squad] but it was good to get off with a draw.

“There are lots of people to still look at but I was very positive about the performance on Saturday. MK passed the ball out of the back for fun and their coach, Mike Dove, encourages it every time.

“The goalkeeper isn’t allowed to kick it really! On occasions they pass around you and through you, but we coped with that and we got bodies behind the ball and showed good fitness levels.

“We are starting to recognise when to press as a team and when to drop off and let them have it.”

Darren hinted that he may add to the squad in the near future, with keeper Tom Hadler having already signed on non-contract terms.

He said: “We have a few trialists in but I can’t take all of them! There are maybe two places available.

“Tom was with us as an under 15’s keeper but after a long conversation with his parents he decided to come away from centres football [Centre of Excellence] to concentrate on his school work.

“He has signed on a non-contract basis and he is good competition for Luke Nalder. We needed another keeper and I am looking for another one on a full-time basis.”

Goal - Aiden Blanchard

Gills: Hadler, Emptage, Bent, Dickinson, Muggleton, Trialist, Blanchard, Staunton, Webster, Trialist, Sellens.