LEEDS UNITED under-18s coach Jason Blunt insists his side are ‘quietly confident’ despite facing a daunting challenge in tonight’s glamour FA Youth Cup third-round tie with holders Chelsea at Elland Road (kick-off 7.05pm).
United could not have been handed a tougher assignment against the Londoners, who won the prestigious tournament three times in the last five years, the most successful run of victories since the famous Manchester United ‘Busby Babes’ side lifted the trophy five times in a row in the 1960s.
But Blunt feels United possess it in their armoury to create a shock if they play at the top of their game tonight, with the draw one they have been relishing since it was made.
Blunt said: “It does not get any bigger. It’s a good draw.
“Our lads are delighted. We have watched them and I think we’re quietly confident and know if we are at the top of their game, we can beat anybody.
“Everyone builds the Youth Cup up and it is a good experience if these lads do make it in terms of handling the atmosphere and the nerves that go in with preparing for a big game.
“What a game for them. They might remember it for the rest of their lives.”
Acknowledging the task in front of his side against Chelsea, top of the south group of the Barclays U18s Premier League, Brunt added: “There would be problems if they were spending that much money on young players and they weren’t good.
“But in a sense, we are 1-0 up as we have got the best player in this age group in the first team in Lewis Cook.
“We have a lot of bright talents. There’s the likes of Frankie Mulhern, who is bright and has scored a lot of goals for us and played in the under-21s.
“There’s another lad called Piteu Crouz, who is nice and bubbly, while there’s also Robbie McDaid and Jack Vann, who goes away with England at under-16s and under-17s level.”
Despite a mixed season so far in the Professional Development League 2 Under-18s League, Blunt is confident a number of his players can step up, given time and follow the lead of the likes of Cook and Alex Mowatt.
With a head coach in Neil Redfearn who is constantly seeking updates on the progress of players at all levels, players have a clear pathway to senior level if they excel, says Blunt.
He added: “The shining light is that Neil has got the job and the kids can now think: ‘Now we have got a chance.’
“Sometimes at clubs, there is a big gap between the first-team, under-21s and youth teams. But there isn’t here and the under-18s train with the under-21s and some are also in and around the first team and the under-15s and under-16s train with the under-18s.
“There will be some 15-year- olds in our squad on Tuesday. Chelsea are signing the best young players in the world and we are signing the best kids from within an hour of here.
“We might not always get results, but we have a good track record of getting kids into the first team with contracts.
“I go and watch the under-12s, 13s and 14s and Redders wants a text to see how they have gone on. He has created a good environment and a good team ethic between all the coaches and staff.”
United, who famously won the competition in 1993 and 1997, bowed out at the round-three stage last season when they were beaten 3-1 at home to Reading.
Entry tonight is £5 – £2.50 for senior citizens aged sixty and over and under-16s. The tie is also live on LUTV.