In the latest instalment of a feature highlighting the development of one of our players out on loan, we hear from Bradley Collins, who is spending the season on loan at League One side Burton Albion.
It’s been an eventful campaign so far for the 21-year-old goalkeeper who, as well as playing regularly in the league, started both legs of Burton’s recent Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
An FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League-winner with the Chelsea Academy sides, Collins tells us about personal improvement, playing in front of large crowds and a pep talk from Pep.
Bradley, how has this season gone for you up to this point?
It’s been really up and down in terms of the results but obviously playing in most of the games since I’ve been here, including both legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final, has been really positive for me. I learnt a lot last year from my loan at Forest Green and so I’m just trying to keep on building.
When you were at Forest Green Rovers last season they were fighting for survival in League Two – how was that experience?
It was my first real taste of men’s football apart from playing in a few Checkatrade games. Forest Green had just come up from the Conference so going into that environment was tough. We started the season quite badly, which dragged on a bit, but we managed to stay out of relegation trouble in the end which was really good for the club.
What are the differences between League One and League Two football?
I’d say in League One there is a bit more quality, and there are a few more teams who try to play football rather than lump it, but obviously there are still some teams who do that. There’s a bit more quality in the final third but that’s about it.
And from a goalkeeper’s perspective, has much changed for you in terms of moving from League Two to League One?
A little bit, but not too much. You just have to try to keep the ball out of the net no matter what. You maybe get a little bit more time in League One, where League Two is a bit more frantic, but other than that they’re not too far apart.
You enjoyed a fantastic run in the Carabao Cup, reaching the last four. Firstly tells us about your 1-0 win away at Middlesbrough in the quarter-finals…
It was great. I didn’t realise at the time it was our first clean sheet away from home all season so that was tremendous and I thought we fully deserved the result in the end. We were the better team during the game and then we knew it was going to be a big semi-final because it was either going to be Chelsea, Tottenham or Man City, and in the end we got City.
You lost the first leg against City 9-0 before pushing them all the way in the return, eventually suffering a 1-0 reverse. What was the feeling like after those two games?
After the second game we were relieved because we went out there and showed a bit more of what we’re about. We pressed them a bit more and had a go, but they had a few chances in that game as well. The first game, at the Etihad, was extremely tough. But at the end of the second game we had six academy players on the pitch which was good for Burton.
Pep Guardiola spoke to you after the first game, what did he say?
He just said it was a tough night but we’d been a credit to our club and to get to the semi-finals was an incredible story given the teams we’d beaten, and he said to keep my head up.
After beating some Championship sides to get to the semi-finals, is there a sense of frustration you haven’t been able to find that consistency in the league?
Yes, definitely, but you see so many teams go on cup runs but then they can’t get results in the league. We definitely have the squad capable of getting results in the league so I’m sure we’ll start picking up a few results now. We’re eight points clear of the relegation zone, but at the same time only nine points off the play-off places, so if we can go on a run we’ll be fine.
Off the pitch, how have you adapted to life on loan in the last 18 months or so?
It’s been fine. I was living on my own before I went on loan, so when I went out it wasn’t too much of a difference. I was used to cooking quite a bit, and that side of it, so it’s kind of normal now.
Have you enjoyed playing in front of crowds every week?
Yes, I think that’s one of the biggest things when you go from playing academy football, where there is hardly anybody at games, to proper matches. For example, we still have to play Sunderland, who get 30,000 fans in League One, and as a young kid that’s what you dream about, playing in front of big crowds, so it’s massive really. It gets you that little bit more motivated as well because when you turn up to a ground and there are people shouting, you have to do well.
Do you feel like your game has really come on since you’ve been playing professional football in the last 18 months?
Yes, definitely. I think last season I was a bit up and down but this year I’ve gained more consistency in my own game which is a positive for me. I’m still learning about myself in the men’s game but so far it’s been good.
What are your aims for the rest of the season?
To play over 30 games and get as many clean sheets as we can, and then we’ll see where that leads us.
And you kept a clean sheet recently against Oxford in what was a tough game after you were forced to play with 10 men for 80 minutes…
Yes, I made a few saves and was named in the Team of the Week so it wasn’t a bad weekend.