Sheffield Wednesday: In-form Owls Under-18s set for FA Youth Cup mission
Play the game not the occasion.
That is Andy Holdsworth's message to his Wednesday players as they prepare to face Stoke City in the FA Youth Cup third round at Hillsborough tomorrow night (7.00pm).
The tournament is regarded as the most prestigious knockout competition in youth football and Holdsworth, the Owls' Under-18s boss, is urging the team to put in a strong performance.
"I think we got caught up the other week against Sheffield United (a 1-1 draw) playing the occasion rather than the game itself," Holdsworth told The Star. "Players were too fired up because it was a Sheffield derby.
"The FA Youth Cup is probably one of the games in the calendar that all the U18s look for but we have to make sure we implement our playing style in the game. The be all and end all is scoring more goals than the opposition.
"I want the lads to give everything they have got so they can look at themselves in the mirror and say 'I did everything I could to help the team get a result.'
"The Youth Cup is a special occasion and hopefully we can put on a show and the players show how good they have been this season."
Holdsworth's side are riding high at the top of the U18s Professional Development League, accruing an impressive 34 points from 16 matches. Only Leeds United have defeated Wednesday this season, with the Whites completing the double at Thorp Arch last weekend.
Their eye-catching performances and progress have led to members of the squad receiving senior call-ups. Defender Issac Rice and midfielder Liam Shaw have both been included in matchday squads by first-team chief Jos Luhukay.
Asked if the team have surpassed his expectations, Holdsworth said: "Not really.
"I think we have got individuals who can go on and play U23s football easily and the likes of Connor Grant, Liam Waldock, Liam Shaw and Issac Rice have been in and around that environment.
"We have got a strong group of individuals on paper but it is down to the individuals and the team to put performances into practice and they have done that on a consistent basis since I came in along with Andy Sharp.
"They are really enjoying and thriving in the environment we are trying to create."
But Holdsworth, the club's professional development phase manager, is acutely aware the team will have to be at their best to pull off a shock and beat Stoke.
"It will be tough," said Holdsworth, who joined Wednesday's academy in September.. "I have watched Stoke quite a few times.
"Stoke are a Category 1 academy whereas we are Category 2 so we will go in as the underdogs.
"We know it will be a tough test and they have some good individual players but, on the flipside, so do we.
"We are doing really well in the league and a lot of our lads have played minutes. We will go toe-to-toe with Stoke and see what the result is."
The prize for the winner of the tie is a home meeting with Everton.