Development Squad Manager Chris H looks ahead to this Thursday’s Premier League Cup qualifier with Exeter City at the Memorial Stadium.
With the game against Exeter City on Thursday the next one on the Development Squad’s agenda, we caught up with Manager Chris Hargreaves to get his thoughts ahead of the Premier League Cup qualifier.
“Well firstly it’s great to be able to play at the Memorial Stadium for these lads, so that already makes it a special experience because that’s where I want these players to end up playing week in, week out.” Chris said.
“It’s against one of the teams that I’d class as a shining example of how a Development Squad can work as Exeter City have had to do it because it’s a fan-owned club.
“The group that I had there at the ages of around 16 and 18, a large number of them went on to play for big clubs or for the Exeter first team.
“It’s a really big test for us because they have a really strong programme that’s been in place for 10 years whereas we’re about a year and a half in so it’ll be a tough game.
Victory here at the Memorial Stadium on Thursday night would mean qualification to the Premier League Cup and a significant increase in games over the course of the season.
Whilst it’s natural to think ahead, Chris insists he and his players can’t look too far.
“We won’t look beyond the game, our focus will be on Exeter and not what would could become of it if we were to win.
“It’s a nice reward if you get through for sure but we have to keep in mind what we as a Development Squad are trying to do – get players into our first team.
“We try and do well in every game because that’s the nature of the football club and the group that did so well last season want to push on.”
More than anything, Chris wants his players to enjoy the experience of playing at the Memorial Stadium, hopefully in front of a decent crowd.
It’s a bit of unknown quantity as to what we’ll face but I’m just pleased the lads will be able to experience that sort of ‘matchday’ that the first team players get at our stadium.
“I don’t know if we’ll have any first team players available for it yet but we have to prepare as if we won’t, which is the same for Exeter really.
“It does seem like many of the teams we play do have first team players involved which is fine by me because it tests our players even more.”
This isn’t the Development Squad’s first experience of the competition, after going agonisingly close to qualification around this time last year.
“We narrowly missed out last season in a ridiculous 22-goal penalty shoot out with Bury but that’s how it goes sometimes.
”I actually thought we were fantastic that night against a team that we worked out had about 1000 league games between them, so to push them that close was great, but I was still disappointed not to get through.”
On a personal note for Chris, this will be his second time in the home dugout at the Memorial Stadium. He’s hoping for a slightly less troublesome experience than the first time!
“It’s crazy actually the only chance I’ve had to manage at the Memorial Stadium before was when Darrell [Clarke] was ill for the Doncaster Rovers game!
“I remember I was actually phoning Darrell on the morning that I couldn’t come in because I was in complete agony with the stomach bug that was flying around, but I couldn’t get through to him.
“I spoke to Marcus [Stewart] and he told me the Gaffer wasn’t coming in, so that was the only experience I’ve had so far in that dugout and I was in complete bits!