FA Youth Cup: Charlton tie a great chance to test our youngsters, says Stevenage boss

Nathan Kerr. Picture by Paul Sanwell/OP Photographic

Nathan Kerr. Picture by Paul Sanwell/OP Photographic - Credit: Archant

Darren Sarll says the FA Youth Cup is a great opportunity to test the temperament and character of Stevenage’s young players.

Boro host Charlton Athletic this evening (Tuesday) with the winners set to travel to Tottenham Hotspur in the third round on December 17.

Boro have bloodied a number of their academy players in the first team over the past few seasons, with full-back Nathan Kerr the latest to step up, and Stevenage boss Sarll believes this competition is a good stepping stone to first team football if the players can show that they are good enough to make the step up.

“The one great thing about the FA Youth Cup is that it does add pressure to the young players and recreates something kind of similar to a first team game,” Sarll, who is the club’s former academy manager, told the Comet.

“It is a real good opportunity to see the character, temperament and development of the players. You can make sound observations and decisions based on this competition.

“Going back to Graham [Westley], I always found it very hard to push young players onto him because he did like a senior player more than a younger player, but it was Ben Kennedy’s performance against Everton [December 2014] that gave Graham no choice. He had to play Ben Kennedy; he was like a man possessed.

“Then he got into the first team and in my opinion – and I don’t want to show disrespect or a lack of courtesy to the other players in the squad – I thought he fired us to the play-offs that year.

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“It all came off an FA Youth Cup performance at the Lamex one very wet night where I thought we absolutely ripped Everton to shreds and really brought our academy into the limelight.”

Sarll and current academy boss Robbie O’Keefe work closely on developing players at Boro, and this includes regularly bringing youngsters in to train with the first team.

Sarll also says his current crop of first-team players often watch academy matches, including the recent 4-2 win at Ware in the first round of the FA Youth Cup.

“We have a minimum of two U18’s training with us every day,” Sarll continues.

“We give them a fortnight with us, some stay a bit longer, some go back and we give them a development plan to go and work with the academy coaches.

“I have got to say that a lot of the players came to the Ware game. I had Nathan Kerr in the dressing room, Ben Kennedy, Dale Gorman, Tom Conlon all in the dressing room. We want to have a real tight-knit family here and it is one club.

“It is Stevenage playing Charlton. They are part of my football club and whilst they are we need to give them the feeling and environment that they very much belong and are an important part of the club’s future.”

Kick-off for tonight’s match is at 7pm.