A welcome win for our development squad was hard-earned in the Midlands last night (Monday) as a goal from Conor Gallagher moments before the break proved the difference between the Blues and Derby County.
The three points took Joe Edwards’s side above Liverpool into fifth place in Premier League 2, closing the gap to second place with a first league win since the start of December. After the game, the manager praised his side for competing in a fast-paced, battling performance on a cold night in Derbyshire.
‘It’s good to get back to winning ways,’ he said after watching his side defend resolutely to claim a first PL2 clean sheet since September. ‘We’re a bit disappointed with our league position at the moment, particularly given how well we started the season, but that’s what happens when you suffer back-to-back defeats.
‘The pace of the game throughout was excellent and a credit to under-23s football but thankfully we showed a bit of everything; we played some good football up against a really difficult press, obviously got our goal just before half-time and then dug in at the end to fight for a clean sheet so the lads thoroughly deserved what they got.’
Collective effort was required to keep our advantage intact in the second half and Edwards indicated that defence started from the front as the strikers in his 3-5-2 system set the tone for a hard-working display.
‘We defended the box well because Derby have players that are quick and threatening in the final third so we had to deal with that,’ he continued. ‘They’ve been at the right end of the table all season and for most of the game you could see why because they’re a really difficult team to play against.
‘They try to get the ball down and play, which contributed to the high tempo, so it was one of those clean sheets where the whole team have earned it. Charlie Brown and Daishawn Redan up front had to do a lot of work which goes unnoticed and the work-rate all over the pitch was excellent. We said to the boys before the game that if we want to work our way up the table, we have to beat the teams that are up there so this was a step in the right direction.’
Ethan Ampadu started at the heart of defence and the 18-year-old Wales international’s inclusion provided a significant boost to our rearguard effort.
‘We have to give credit to Ethan because he needs to play football and probably felt he hadn’t got many minutes recently so he asked to come and play, which we always welcome,’ Edwards added. ‘He always brings great leadership qualities and really strengthened us at the back.’
The challenge now is to secure back-to-back league wins for the first time this season when Swansea City visit Aldershot on Friday 15 February.
‘You want to build on it whenever you win and that consistency has been our biggest problem all season,’ explained the manager.
‘There are a lot of good teams in the league and not much of a gulf between the teams because anyone can beat anyone. Consistency has been a problem for us so now we need to follow it up with a home win in particular because we know our home form has cost us.’