Joe Edwards credited the Checkatrade Trophy for providing his young players with unique football exposure and experiences after our development squad were beaten in the last-16 of the senior competition.
The initial reaction was one of disappointment at Stamford Bridge last night as Peterborough United, seventh in League One, came from behind to win 3-1 and advance to the quarter-finals.
Richard Nartey’s header late in the first half gave us an advantage at the break, though the Posh turned it around with three goals in eight second-half minutes, and Edwards admitted their quality in the final third proved the difference.
‘We started a bit tentatively,’ he said after the game. ‘We were camped in our own box for the first 10 minutes so it looked like it was going to be a long night. I have to give credit to the lads because we eventually got the ball down and started to play, which helped us grow in confidence quickly.
'All of a sudden we started playing a lot of good football, were really controlling the middle of the pitch and then the goal just before half-time took us in feeling quite confident.
‘Peterborough upped it in the second half and we were just hoping it would play out like it did at the start of the game but they have players in attacking areas who can be dangerous and clinical.
‘We’ve watched Maddison, Dembele and Toney cause problems for teams in League One against experienced defenders so it was always going to be a big test for our boys. For large periods of the game, we dealt with them well but that 15-minute period in the second half when they were really clinical has ultimately cost us.’
Edwards did not feel his side were caught unaware by any of the threats posed by Peterborough, insisting they should simply reflect on testing themselves against senior professionals and those experiences gained.
‘Our experience in the competition last season and the experience the boys pick up quickly after each game means it’s not so much about learning tonight,’ he continued. ‘We didn’t learn anything new. It’s literally just the exposure and experience of playing against that type of player that the boys gain.
‘We did all our homework before the game so the lads knew exactly what was coming from their front players but dealing with that is a different matter, especially when most of the experiences in their careers so far have been playing against lads the same age and a similar physical profile to them. It’s that experience which is priceless for our boys.’
Only one academy team remain in the competition, highlighting the tough challenge the youngsters face in negotiating a path through the group stage and five subsequent knockout ties. Edwards believes the focus for his young side should be on competing and learning, rather than challenging for the silverware.
‘We send a lot of our young players out on loan as soon as they’re ready for senior football so it’s always going to be difficult for us in this competition,’ he explained. ‘If we really wanted to compete in the latter stages, we’d keep players back to make us stronger but development is not about that, it’s about whatever is best for the individual.
‘That means we’re left with a very young team so it’s always going to be incredibly difficult for them to go the full journey, particularly when the Football League teams start taking it more seriously as you get into the knockout rounds. The most important thing for us is the experience of playing in games like tonight and what our boys can take from that.’