WEDNESDAY academy manager Sean McAuley will not bother to buy a lottery ticket this week after the luck that he and the Owls youngsters have just had.
Preparations for the match at Carlisle in the prestigious FA Youth Cup were meticulous. The Under 18s travelled on the first team bus and were booked in for a pre-match meal at the same hotel used by the first team.
The teenagers fancied their chances because they have been doing reasonably well in the academy league.
But traffic problems meant they were stuck on the bus for eight hours on the journey north, without any refreshment, kicked off an hour and a half late, lost 4-1 after their nightmare trip, and had spent a total of almost 12 hours on the coach when they arrived back at 2.30am.
At one point McAuley had to decide whether to have the game called off - but road chaos ruled that out as well.
He explained: “We set off at noon, were due to get to the hotel at three, have a pre-match meal at four, set off for the ground at five and have an hour and a half’s preparation there for a seven o’clock kick-off. But it all went wrong
“The M61 [in Lancashire] was shut both ways. We tried to get on the M65, but that was gridlocked; we came off and the roads were gridlocked around Preston.
“Going towards the M6, we had to make a call on whether to play the game. The referee wanted to to leave it until 9.15; there were people already at the ground. As we were approaching the M6 to go north, the southbound M6 got shut.
“To turn back, we’d have had to go up to the A66, near Carlisle, go east and then back down [the A1] to get home. So we made the decision to play.” The team arrived at Brunton Park at around 8pm and kicked off at 8.30.
“We are doing all right in the league and we had thought we’d have a chance in the Cup,” added McAuley.
“The lads were desperate to play, and despite the traffic mayhem I thought that channelled enthusiasm might have got us something. We’d had no food or drink. In hindsight, we were fighting a losing battle.” But hopes were alive for more than an hour of the game.
“We were 2-0 down at half time,” said McAuley. “But we scored a four and a five in the league this season. Early in the second half we had a goal disallowed, which I thought was a bit harsh. If it had stood, there could have been a change. But they went up the field and made it 3-0.”
Matt Tumilty made it 3-1 in the 84th minute.
McAuley said: “We also had 11 shots to their 10 but in going for a second goal we left ourselves open at the back. The lads are absolutely gutted that they’re out.”
But McAuley says he does not want young players to be molly-coddled and they could learn from the whole experience. “They don’t have it that tough. Let’s not make them prima donnas who can’t play unless they have this or that. There’s a bit of hidden learning in there for them.”
To round off the day, the coach stopped for 10 minutes on the hard shoulder on the return journey. Fortunately, fears that the gearbox had broken down were allayed.
It’s a shorter journey on Saturday - they play Sheffield United at Shirecliffe (11am).