JOHN PERKINS says the pressure of playing at the Britannia Stadium may have got to Stoke City's Under-18s last night... as they suffered a 3-2 extra-time defeat to Huddersfield Town in the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup.
A small but vocal crowd of almost a 1000, plus a collection of Club staff, watched on as Potters goals from James Alabi and Peter Makrillos proved not to be enough as the visitors ran out merited winners.
Coach Perkins was disappointed that they failed to reproduce the form that saw them romp to a 4-0 win at Brighton & Hove Albion in the previous round last month.
"I said to the lads before the game that they did really well against Brighton and travelled over 200 miles away from the ground, but their biggest challenge will be the fact that they're playing in their own stadium," said Perkins.
"I think most of them froze on the night, and they didn't produce what they would normally produce as young players both individually and collectively.
"They showed ten minute pockets over the 120 minutes, but collectively, there wasn't enough continuity with their effort and commitment.
The squad was missing a number of their more experienced scholars through injury, and although Perkins admits their absence was felt, he wasn't prepared to use it as an excuse for their defeat.
"I think if we'd have had a few of the others back then I think it would have been different, but they weren't, they were injured, so what can we do?" he commented.
"They're a really, really young team - it's not an excuse, but they are. We had eight first-years in, so hopefully they can gain plenty of experience from it.
"I don't think they deserved to get anything out of the game, though, because I don't think they put enough into it to affect the result."
He says the team must now apply themselves for the rest of the year, and focus on picking up results in the Barclays Under-18s Premier League.
"They've got to get their heads down, and go into what is essentially a new season," he added.
"They've got to do the things that this Club expects young players to do. The basis is their work-rate, commitment and determination. If you haven't got them, then you haven't got any chance."