ON a weekend where Argyle clash with Exeter City in three different age groups, Academy manager Phil Stokes is hopeful that his under-18 side can set the tone with a win in the FA Youth Cup.
“It’s a funny one,” said Stokes. “We’ve been drawn to play them on a weekend where we’ve got Exeter at under-18 [on Friday night at Home Park, kick-off 7pm], under-16 on Saturday, and the first-team in the afternoon. We hope that we can get ourselves off to a good start and that follows through for the rest of the weekend.”
The young Pilgrims will lock horns with their Devon rivals at Home Park at 7pm on Friday, October 25, looking to right the wrongs of a 5-0 defeat to the Grecians earlier this season - as well as provide early bragging rights to the Green Army ahead of the senior sides’ Sky Bet League Two clash at St James Park on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re out to prove a little bit of a point,” said Stokes. “From our point of view, we weren’t at it at the last game. The lads know that they did not perform as well as they could have on the day, and they’ll be looking to put it right at Home Park under the lights.”
Although the Greens’ early season Youth Alliance defeat to Exeter was a difficult one to swallow, Stokes believes that his young charges are ready for the challenge, taking heart from a recent improvement in form that has lifted the Pilgrims to mid-table in their division.
“For us, it’s really just about trying to build on what we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks,” said Stokes. “We’ve had some really good performances, against Bristol Rovers and Cheltenham, and hopefully we can put in another good performance and get the result to go with that.”
The situation promises to be significantly different from the two sides’ previous meeting, which occurred in terrible conditions in Tavistock. The teams do have recent history in the FA Youth Cup, with Exeter triumphing in a five-goal thriller in the first-round last season, winning 3-2.
However, this time, the Greens have home advantage, and recent performances in the Premier League Cup, including a 1-1 draw with Premier League side Watford, suggest that Argyle are a match for anybody at the Theatre of Greens.
“It does help,” said Stokes. “A lot of the boys have been involved in the Premier League Cup, and those experiences will help the boys. Hopefully it will show in terms of a performance.
“The FA Youth Cup is always a special occasion. We still want to just go out and play our game, not let the occasion get the better of us, but I think playing at Home Park will spur us on and have a positive impact throughout the game.”
Stokes will manage the young Pilgrims from the dug-out, alongside Jamie Lowry, goalkeeping coach Rhys Wilmot, and Academy physiotherapist Tom Hunter. Phil is hopeful that performing well on high-profile occasions like these will help more of his talented youngsters bridge the gap to the first-team – like second-year scholars Jude Boyd and Rubin Wilson have in recent months.
“They’ve both had first-team debuts and done really well,” said Phil. “It’s another opportunity for all the apprentices to show what they can do in front of a good crowd, the gaffer and the first-team staff as well. It’s an exciting opportunity.”
Tickets for the game are available on the gate, at a bargain price of £5 per adult, £3 for over-65s and under-23s and £1 for under-18s. Under-12s go free, as long as they accompany a paying adult or concession.