Head of Academy looks back on a successful season.
- Gregor Rioch reflects on the 2015-16 season for the Academy.
- Latics won the Youth Alliance title and finished second in the Final Third Development League.
- "We have great people here." - Gregor Rioch.
Q - Starting with one of the big talking points from the season, just how special of an achievement was the run to the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup, beating a team like Derby County and pushing Manchester City as far as you did?
“We didn’t realise until leading into the game that it was a club record for the youth team to be in the fifth round.
“The youth cup run was special. It was really enjoyable coming in from the first round and from my experience over the last 10 years it’s actually better coming in from the opening round because the players have time to deal with the nerves of playing in such a prestigious competition.
“The way they applied themselves and captured the imaginations of the people of Wigan is something to be proud of.
“We pushed the eventual runners-up all the way into extra time and almost won it in 90 minutes. It wasn’t to be on the night, but it shows just how far we’ve come and it wasn’t a fluke because we did so well against Derby in the game before along with some really good performances throughout the season.”
Q – How much of advantage to the development of your young players was it to be able to play at the DW Stadium in the fourth and fifth rounds?
“We had great support from the club, especially when you consider the demands put on the pitch at the DW Stadium at the time by the weather and the fixture schedule.
“It was great to know that the Under 18s are an important feature because to play at the DW was the best thing for our young lads.
“It was an experience that the lads will never forget, and some of them will not experience anything like it again, so they’ll take those special moments with them forever.”
Q – The Under 18s won the Youth Alliance title in their final game of the season against Rochdale in a very similar situation to last season knowing that a victory would see the team crowned champions, how did the players deal with the pressure?
Latics celebrate their 3-0 victory over Rochdale at Radcliffe Borough.
“A lot of the players in this group hadn’t experienced anything like it before, but those who were here last season were fully aware of how familiar the situation was and were fully focused on making sure we put in a good performance first and foremost, which helped to us to the 3-0 victory.
“We should have played Rochdale in April but it got called off and the only date we could get was the day before the last first team match of the season.
“We knew going into the game that we had to win to win the title, a draw would only have seen us level with Bury and we would have lost out on goal difference.
“The games they’ve had this season against Derby and Man City helped them to control their nerves much better than last season when we lost to Rochdale, allowing Bury to win the title.”
Q – You’ve had an extended match schedule this season with the FA Youth Cup included, has that had an effect on the players leading into the final game against Rochdale?
“The boys have played an incredible amount of games this season, youth team wise we’ve played 44 games, including pre-season, and some of the boys are fatigued both mentally and physically.
“We wanted good performance from them in the last game, but we also wanted them to achieve something so they get to understand the feeling of winning and desire to do it again. This is also a big part of player development.
“They’ve given everything every single week, they’ve been an unbelievable group to work with and a credit to everybody, so to see the lads celebrating on the pitch at Rochdale and walking out at the DW Stadium at half time against Barnsley was a very proud moment for all of us.”
Q – You’ve had 14 players from the Under 18s step up into the Development Squad this season, overall how has the campaign been?
Under 18 top goal scorer James Barrigan has featured 15 times for the Development Squad.
“We set performance targets for every age group in the Academy and we aim to push a certain amount of players up from the Under 18s into the Development Squad.
“In some cases appearances have been made through necessity, but in the majority of cases they’ve played on merit and to get 14 players stepping up throughout the season is an excellent achievement.
“We see the Development Squad as the most difficult group to get right in a football club. When I speak to other academy managers they feel the same way.
“You try to push your Under 18s to give them a better experience, you have a core group of Development Squad players, and then you get players dropping down who are on the fringes of the first team and need some game time.
“The difficult part of that is creating some sort of consistency within the group in terms of training and game styling.
“That’s why it’s so important to make sure the philosophy and the style of play filters from the first team right the way through the club, so that the consistency can be there.
“It’s been a good experience this season at development level, we’ll look back on it and review what we did well and what needs improving.
“We’ve had discussions about the size of the group for next season and potentially having a fuller squad for Pete Atherton, so that he has more of a consistent group to help develop the players along.”
Q – Just finally, how has the season been for yourself and the staff who work within the Academy?
Latics' Academy staff with the Youth Alliance trophy.
“We’ve made huge steps forward this season; we’ve had great support from the chairman, the chief executive and the board.
“The staff have been unbelievable. I’ve been working at this level for a number of years now and it’s the best group of staff I’ve ever worked with.
“They go above and beyond, and when you have staff who are prepared to do that then you’ve got a chance of succeeding.
“I think our players and parents know that we treat them as people and we look after them to try and develop them.
“We’re trying to improve our facilities all the time to help make that happen, but it’s more about the people who are working within the structure and we have great people.”
- DEV SQUAD RESULTS: See the full 2015-16 fixtures and results list.
- U18 RESULTS: See the full 2015-16 fixtures and results list.
- DEV SQUAD PROFILES: Learn more about the 2015-16 squad.
- U18 PROFILES: Learn more about the 2015-16 squad.