Third Place For Bolton At The Milk Cup

David Lee and Tony Kelly speak to the official website after returning home from the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland

Bolton Wanderers' Youth Team has returned home having enjoyed another impressive showing in the prestigious Milk Cup.

The annual Under-17 tournament, based in Northern Ireland, is considered one of the best youth competitions worldwide and this year featured 24 teams from all around the world including England, Brazil, Senegal, Russia and Germany.

Having finished runners-up and eighth in the previous two years respectively, Wanderers continued their fine form this year by finishing in third place in the high-demand competition in which teams play five matches in seven days.

The young Trotters began their campaign with a brilliant 4-0 victory over Otago of New Zealand, before registering a 4-1 win over home side County Down and earning a well-fought 2-2 draw with Senegalese outfit Etoile Lusitana.

Wanderers progressed to the semi-finals where they faced a well-drilled Newcastle United side, unfortunately losing 2-0 in a valiant effort, before securing third place with a 3-1 win over Dublin-based Cherry Orchard in a play-off.

Under-18 Coach David Lee feels finishing third is a pleasing statistic and insists that there are many positives to take from this year's tournament.

He said: "We took boys who are now at Under-16 level and the intake of the new first year scholarship players.

"Between them they haven't played many competitive games together so to go to Northern Ireland and perform the way they did, I was pleased with them individually and as a group.

"We went over there with hopes of getting to the final. Unfortunately we fell at the final hurdle but I learned a lot about the players, individually and as a group, and overall it was a pleasing tournament for us."

Striker Zack Clough was one of Wanderers' stand-out performers and won the golden boot following his eight goals in the five matches played.

And Lee, who made 125 league appearances for the Trotters between 1992 and 1997, insists some of the older players of the squad should now be pushing towards trying to get in the development squad and playing reserve team football.

"It's not going to happen overnight," he added. "You give them small targets. If they continue to reach those targets, then players like Zack will eventually warrant a place in the development squad and training with the more experienced players.

"It's then up to them to take the opportunities presented to them and I'm sure a few of them will."

Assistant Under-18 coach Tony Kelly feels the whole tournament was a learning curve and an experience for the players, and he is optimistic that all involved can win the tournament next year.

"They have got the experience now. We got to the final the first year we went, the second year we finished eighth, and this year we went back over and finished third," he said.

"It's a learning curve for them. Some of the lads are only a month out of school so we get to know them whilst we are away and see how they behave and see their characters. Hopefully next year we can go one better."

The current crop of players within the Under-18 setup at the club boasts potential, and Kelly insists that the players are aware that it is a lengthy process achieving their aims and getting to where they want to be.

"They know they are coming to David and me for two years and if they sign pro then they go on to the development squad. It is then up to them to knock on the first team door," he added.

"Owen Coyle is always at the games, watching the reserves, so it is a big long learning curve. Some lads get there within one year, some lads might take three of four years, it is always individual.

"There are a lot of people who would give their right arms to work at this football club, or any football club, and they only get two years to prove that this is what they want to do.

"We just tell them listen to us. We will try and help them all we can because we have been through it. We tell them to come in and work as hard as they can because they only get out of it what they put into it.

"At the moment it is a very happy place. The kids love coming in - they are buzzing. That is what we as coaches want because, at the end of the day, if the kids are not happy, they are not going to make it. It's going well at the moment."

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