Forest Green Rovers Under 18s claimed all three points in week two of the Youth Alliance League as they ran out 2-0 winners over Plymouth Argyle.
On a windy, rainy day at The Royal Agricultural College, it was a Dan Jones brace that proved the difference as Rovers got off the mark for 2019/20.
Having had the lion’s share of possession in the opening exchanges, Jones opened the scoring after 41 minutes as he redirected Dan Bradshaw’s shot to find the back of the net.
The creative hub for Rovers on the day, Jones could have struck twice more before the hour mark, firing a distant volley narrowly wide as well as seeing a good chance saved as he raced through on goal.
FGR’s persistence payed off with 61 minutes on the clock, as good link-up play between Jones and forward Dan Ogunleye saw the midfielder spin his man to finish an excellent goal into the bottom corner.
Head of Academy Hannah Dingley was quick to praise her side, and credit their reaction to an opening day defeat last weekend.
“The boys have had a bit of a tough time over the last few games with results away at Bournemouth and the Cirencester Town game in pre-season, so it’s fantastic for them to get a clean sheet and to go on and win the game,” she said.
“It was a real team performance. Alfie Saunders played at centre-half which isn’t his natural position while Archie Thayer came in at full-back which also isn’t necessarily his natural position so that is really pleasing.
“Having conceded five last weekend, we worked a lot with the boys on wanting to defend the goal and the desire to keep clean sheets and what epitomised the performance for me was Ethan Hill clearing the ball of the line in the 92nd minute. That showed me that the learning had sunk in of how important clean sheets are.
“At 2-0 up he could have easily let the ball go in and we’d have won the game 2-1 but he put his body on the line to stop the ball going in and it was probably my highlight of the game.”
The conditions certainly had an impact on the game, but the style of play that Dignley and her team are implementing in line with the first-team philosophy, make adverse weather more manageable.
“It was really difficult conditions, the Agricultural College is an open space at the best of times so with the wind it was difficult to play football for both sides, but in fairness to the Forest Green boys they played from the back and used the patterns they’d been working on. When that started paying off they grew in confidence,” she explained.
“I think the positive of our style of play is it was easier for our boys to keep playing that way in those conditions. There’s no point trying to play long passes because it would be too unpredictable with the wind so that benefited us.
“The wind was going across the pitch which meant the play was down one side more than the other so it was hard to switch it out the other way but they coped well.”
Midfielder Dan Jones, who was involved in Mark Cooper’s pre-season training camp in Devon, produced a star man performance, as well as popping up with both goals.
“I think I’ve probably not seen the best of Dan Jones since I have been here, the games more recently have seen the other team have more possession but against Plymouth he was the player I’d been told about and the player that the manager likes. He was getting on the ball and he was making things happen. I think he was the stand-out player from both sides,” said Dingley
“They’ve all got things to learn, and I think Dan finds it difficult when we don’t have the ball and that is something he’s going to have to get better at, but he has lots of ability and his second goal was outstanding.
“He showed great vision to flick it round the defender, move the other way round him and slot it past the keeper.
“In all honesty I think he would be disappointed not to have had a hattrick with a volley from distance going just wide and a one-on-one that the keeper saved but the positive is that he is getting into those positions.”
Forest Green Rovers Academy get back on the road on Saturday as they travel to Yeovil Town for an 11.00am kick off.