Checkatrade Trophy reaction: Unbelievable experience

It was semi-final shootout pain for our development squad last night in Lincoln as we battled to draw over 90 minutes against League Two opposition before falling to a 4-2 defeat on penalties at a snowy Sincil Bank.

After knocking out three League One sides in successive rounds, Joe Edwards’s side battled through a bruising encounter in the East Midlands, pinned back for long periods and required to demonstrate all the defensive resilience they have developed throughout their run to the last four.

After falling behind to a powerful back-post header from Luke Waterfall, the centre-half, the Blues found a response and equalised five minutes later as Daishawn Redan netted his fourth goal in as many games. Lincoln City were looking to book a first-ever trip to Wembley but required penalties to advance, recovering from an early miss to win 4-2.

HIGHLIGHTS: LINCOLN (A) CHECKATRADE TROPHY 17/18

After the game, Edwards reflected on a valiant display from a side with 10 teenagers in the starting team and seven who are still eligible to play in the FA Youth Cup. The aim was to continue the Checkatrade Trophy journey on to a Wembley final but the bigger picture of player development was the significant benefit of our extended run in the competition.

‘We’re coming away with mixed emotions because we didn’t just come for the experience of taking part, we wanted to win and try to get to Wembley,’ he told the official Chelsea website. ‘It’s a cruel way to lose on penalties but this has been another unbelievable experience for our boys.

‘It was another difficult game but really pleasing to see how well the lads coped with it and competed. To find a way to bounce back after going behind, when we were already up against it and not really creating much, shows incredible mentality and maturity.

‘Every now and then we play against Under-23 teams who are quite direct but tonight we played against a team that got it up towards our box at every opportunity. They had big, powerful men up there against our young lads so the boys had to learn how to use their bodies, be brave and stand up. I thought the way we defended our box for 99 per cent of the game was outstanding.’

Daishawn Redan fired us level but the young Blues were eventually beaten on spot-kicks.

Swansea City’s quarter-final appearance last season was the previous best showing from an academy team in the Checkatrade Trophy and Edwards cited the fact that his side remained unbeaten over 90 minutes throughout as a key source of pride.

‘The competition is outstanding for us,’ continued the manager. ‘I know it’s got mixed reviews from people in the Football League but I’m obviously going to give a biased opinion because we get to see our 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds play in an environment like that, which is only going to benefit them whatever level they end up playing at.

‘We’ve set down a marker because this is the furthest any academy team has ever reached in the competition and next season we’ll come back trying to emulate that. We’ve played seven Football League teams and not been beaten once over 90 minutes which is something to be extremely proud of.’

After the disappointment subsides, Edwards believes his players can take great credit from not just their results but the character and fight shown. At a time when young players in English football face frequent questions about their desire and work ethic, our youngsters have shown technical quality, tactical intelligence, physical strength and impressively strong mentality.

‘I’m immensely proud and I think everyone at the Academy will be as well,' continued Edwards. 'You see a lot of criticism given to young players these days about whether they get given too much, too soon or whether the facilities are too nice and it doesn’t prepare them mentally enough.

‘We have an outstanding facility at Cobham and these boys get the best of what they need every day but what they’ve shown tonight and throughout this competition is a strong mentality that’s been bred in them through several coaches throughout the age groups. They will only learn from this experience and certainly everyone at the club can be proud of their efforts.’