'We have character, personality and ability... we want to win it' - Atay on Town U18s' Youth Cup bid
- Credit: Ross Halls
Ipswich Town Under 18s boss Adem Atay believes his young players’ ‘character, personality and ability’ will ensure they’re able to go toe-to-toe with Liverpool in tonight’s FA Youth Cup semi-final (kick-off 6pm).
The Blues have defied the odds to make the last four of the prestigious competition, last won by the club in 2005, where they are the only Category Two academy side remaining as the tournament reaches its business end.
It’s been a long road to reach this point, beginning in round one and seeing them beat Category One sides Middlesbrough and Fulham along the way, before a dramatic victory over Sheffield United at Portman Road in the last eight.
Tonight’s clash with Liverpool brings an even tougher challenge, which will be shown live on BT Sport, but Atay is extremely proud of his players and believes the heart they have shown throughout this season will stand them in good stead.
“Myself and the whole football club are really proud of the boys, because League One clubs or Category Two academy clubs don’t make it to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup very often,” he said.
“It’s something to be proud of because we’ve got here with a great identity. We’re feeling excited, there are bound to be some nerves because none of them have been here before, and we can’t wait to embrace the occasion.
“It’s live on TV, which is something we’ve not experienced, but we’re not hiding away from it or the fact we’re playing a big club like Liverpool.
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“We’ll give it everything and hopefully we can come out as winners.
“Hopefully we can produce one more performance that can take us to the final but, even if we don’t, we’ll have some brilliant memories.
“We’ve got boys in the group with really good character, personality and ability and those are three things that we feel has enabled us to keep coming through these rounds. The boys are passionate about the football club and that’s exactly what we want.”
The road to the last four of the Youth Cup has taken a season, but for so many of these players it’s a road they’ve been on together since they were still at primary school.
It’s a journey Atay has been part of for the best part of a decade, too, coaching many of the players since they were nine-years-old. His young players are following a path he’s taken before, too, having been at the club as a young academy player himself the last time the club lifted the prestigious trophy.
“We have 10 players who have been here since the age of eight and I’ve been working with some of them since under 9s or under 10s, so it’s been a journey for all of us,” the coach said.
“I want to see these boys progress and have a career in football. So if you were to give me the choice of losing to Liverpool but having five players from the programme go on to make the first-team better, or kick on and have careers elsewhere, I’d take that option first.
“But obviously we want that win to try and make it to the final.
“The unity and the spirit is so strong that they feel they can deal with any occasion or challenge which comes their way. It’s out biggest test but we can’t wait for it.
“We won’t change our approach just because it’s Liverpool or because it’s a semi-final, because we go into every game working on the things we can do.
“They know the opposition we’re playing and we’ve done some preparation for that but emotion will play a big part on the night. That’s something they’re going to need to control.
“Liverpool are probably coming into it expecting to beat us but we’re here for a reason. They’re in for a tough game.
“These boys want to create their own memories and this is a win-win for them. We were never expected to get to this stage from those outside the club and possibly inside the club too.
“So they can be really proud of what they’ve achieved. But they’re sportsmen so they won’t be happy with a semi-final because they want to win it.
“We want to take this one step further than just a semi-final.”
Whichever side comes out on top tonight will face the winner of the other semi-final, between West Brom and Aston Villa, later this month.