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Maine Road boss eager to continue tradition

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As they enter the second half of the season, Maine Road manager Chris Hirst says he is happy with the way his team is performing during his first full season in charge.

A former player at the club, Chris took over full control of first team affairs in the summer, after managing the reserves last season, initially alongside club stalwart Derek Barber, and then moved over to look after the first team for the last ten games of the season.

This season, Chris has Derek alongside him in the dug out once more, and he says he is enjoying the experience of managing the team while being able to tap into Derek’s formidable football knowledge.

“It's brilliant having Derek with me”, said Chris. “It's good just to bounce ideas off him and it's great having someone with that much experience.

“When I was asked if I would take the job, I said I would, but only as long as Derek was around. Obviously having that much experience to call on, it can only be helpful”.

Not surprisingly with Derek at his side, Chris is committed to the Maine Road policy of bringing young players through the ranks, and this season the squad contains 19 players who have been regulars in the Reserve team in the past year.

There are 8 players from the Manchester Saturday FA Cup winning team in May 2014, and 14 members of the squad are aged 19 years old or under.

Many clubs might question the policy of playing so many young players, but Chris has no doubts it is the best policy for Road.

“It might sound strange, but we don't find it too hard to bring young players in, because we start getting them in so young.

“We've a lot of lads who have been here two or three years, for example, up front we’ve got Connor Hughes who is 18 now, and has been here since he was 16.

“Last year was his first full season but he had a struggle with injuries and still scored 14 goals. This year he is already on 14 goals in the league.

“Eight of the starting eleven on Saturday (against Runcorn Linnets) have come through from the reserves.

“We are keeping with the club tradition, and we have more coming through we can call upon if we need to”.

The reserve team play in Division One of the Cheshire League, and Chris believes that the level of competition in that league, coupled with training with the senior squad at the club, is an ideal way for young players to get accustomed to adult football.

“It's a good place for young players to play”, he said.

“I don't believe in playing under 18s and under 21s as it's not comparable to what they are going to be doing. Playing against men, they are getting kicked and having to ride tackles, and learning how to play men's football.

“We've got three or four midfielders who have been training with us between 6 and 18 months, learning about exactly the way we play. Then after a few months in the reserves, they are ready to challenge for the first team.

“That's how we work it and it's why we have got such a good tradition of bringing through young players. Using Joel Senior as an example, I thought he was man of the match making his debut (against Runcorn Linnets on Saturday) and he is only 16.

“He started training with us 18 months ago. When he turned 16, he started playing in the reserves, did very well in the reserves, and now has come into the first team.

“He's been playing reserve team football, getting ready for the first team, and then when he has stepped up he hasn't looked out of place at all”.

As far as the rest of the season is concerned, Chris is now looking to build on the foundations laid in the opening months.

“Now we are out of the cups, we just want to focus on keeping in the middle part of the league and see where we are in a couple of months. It's just a case of take each game as it comes.

“We are doing all right, but there are always things we can improve on. With the ability we have got in the changing room I think we should be looking to be a little bit higher than we are.

“It's just a case of getting everyone working together as much as we can, and if we do that I can see this group of players really push on”.

Source: www.nwcfl.com

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