Ipswich Town youngsters to get a taste of the “big time” against Sunderland

Gerard Nash

Gerard Nash - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Town under-18s boss Gerard Nash says tonight’s FA Youth Cup clash at home to Sunderland (7pm ko) is the ideal preparation for his Portman Road hopefuls.

Nash, a former Town academy player himself, saw his own career cut short by injury but he is now forging a reputation as one of the country’s top young coaches.

The 27-year-old, who took over as under-18s manager in the summer following a reshuffle at the club, never played in the Youth Cup himself, as a result of his injury struggles, but knows the significance tonight’s game could carry for Town’s young crop.

“It’s a big occasion in the players’ lives and their family and friends will be there,” said County Kildare-born Nash.

“It is an opportunity to play in a stadium, in a knock-out competition with the incentive of progressing into the later rounds of the tournament and potentially playing on TV (on Sky).

“It’s that first exposure to professional football and learning what it could be like to play in the first team.

“I am sure they are looking forward to it.”

Most Read

He added: “As a scholar I never played in the Youth Cup as I was always injured.

“I do remember my team-mates being excited about playing and me being devastated. I think we actually lost to Sunderland during my second year here, and Grant Leadbitter scored the winning goal.”

Development remains the buzz word at Portman Road although results are important, and a good outcome from tonight’s clash would give a clearer indication of how Nash and academy manager Bryan Klug’s young players are developing.

“The only way they will improve is by playing against the better teams,” said Nash.

“The importance of winning will be high but so too will be the level of performance.

“The game is a benchmark in the respect that, quite often, we have school boys playing in the under-18s on a Saturday because some of the under-18s are needed for the under-21s.

“We want them to go out and perform with the pressure and how they do will give us some indication as to where they are in terms of their development.”

Meanwhile, right-back Kyle Hammond is ready to make the most of his second chance in the competition.

The young defender, formerly a pupil at Westbourne, in Ipswich, was part of the team that reached the fourth round of the competition before being knocked out, 3-2, by Derby County.

To make matters worse, he was then present at both legs of the Youth Cup final when Norwich defeated Chelsea on aggregate.

“That was a kick in the teeth!” said Hammond, who spent time with Town’s first-team during pre-season, and was made to sing Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin!’ as his initiation song.

“All the players are looking forward to the game with the added incentive of knowing Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor will be there.”

SQUAD: Michael Crowe, Kyle Hammond, Joe Robinson, Jack Willbye, George Fowler, Omar Sowumni, Byron Lawrence, Amir Berkane, George Clarke, Ted Bishop, Matthew Clarke, Ronaldo Jones, Jacob Marsden, Edward Ellis, Cemal Ramadan, Sam Ford.