Newcastle United stand in the way of Blackpool and a dream FA Youth Cup quarter-final clash against Chelsea

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There’s no denying it, a trip to Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup would be a huge occasion for Blackpool.
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But to get to that point, the Under-18s must first claim the scalp of another Premier League side in Newcastle United at Bloomfield Road on Wednesday.

That will be no easy task though, as Newcastle are a major club in their own right and operate a Category One academy, compared to Blackpool’s Category Three.

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But there’s currently a “buzz” among John Murphy’s side, according to Blackpool’s academy director Ciaran Donnelly, who feels an upset could well be on the cards.

“We’re just excited at this point,” he told The Gazette.

“We’ve had to wait a decent amount of time for the fixture to come around due to playing our last round game really early.

“But the players are in a really good place. They’ve been playing really well as a group, some have been out on loan and the younger ones are starting to push through and test the older lads and we’re in a really good place.

Academy director Ciaran DonnellyAcademy director Ciaran Donnelly
Academy director Ciaran Donnelly

“We’re ready for Newcastle. We know it’s going to be a really tough challenge. They’re a big club with a Category One academy, but we feel this group of ours is probably better than the Category we are.

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“We know we’ve got a good group and we feel as though we can go toe-to-toe with Newcastle and see where it takes us on the night.”

The Magpies, who are struggling in their league this season, only just edged past Colchester United 3-2 in their last round tie.

“We know a little bit about them. We’ve looked to try and establish how they might play and who their best players might be,” Donnelly added.

“But overall we try and make it about us, try to get the best out of our players and try to ensure we can perform to the best of our ability on the night and set training up to try and achieve that so that everyone knows their roles on the night.

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“I know that John Murphy is working really hard with the rest of the staff to prepare the players and he’s really excited for the game, as we all are.”

Donnelly, Murphy and his staff will inevitably be driving home the message to the players that all the focus has to be on Newcastle.

But, that being said, Donnelly knows it would be unrealistic to completely ignore a potential trip to Stamford Bridge in the next round.“We’re incredibly excited about the cup run and trying to perform on Wednesday night. That’s all we’re focused on for now,” he said.

“However, we’d be lying if we said we don’t know what’s the carrot at the end of the stick if we win the game on Wednesday.

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Chelsea would be an amazing opportunity for our players to go and experience something they wouldn’t normally get to.

“But our focus has to be Wednesday and we will make sure we do everything we can to perform on the night and if we do that, we think we have a good chance of getting through.”

Wednesday night’s fixture will be the second time an FA Youth Cup tie has been hosted at Bloomfield Road this season.A Johnny Johnston header was enough on the first occasion for Blackpool to beat Huddersfield Town 1-0, before they eased to a 3-1 win away to Cheltenham Town in the fourth round.

“There seems to be a bit of the buzz about the Under-18s and how they’re doing. We can sense that,” Donnelly said.

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“We’re getting asked more questions about them, we’re getting more supporters down to watch our regular games, so we feel like we will be well followed on Wednesday. The local support will get right behind the lads.

“The lads are ball boys at the first-team’s home games, so they know what Bloomfield Road can be like when the fans get right behind the team.

“This is our home, we’re familiar with it. The players have already had the experience of playing there and I think that stands us in good stead to put on a really good performance on the night.”

The Under-18s are in fine form at the minute, having beaten Fylde coast neighbours Fleetwood Town 2-0 at Poolfoot Farm on Saturday.

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It leaves them third in the Youth Alliance league table behind Carlisle United and rivals Preston North End.

Blackpool are also performing well in two other cup competitions, reaching the last four of both the Youth Alliance Cup and the Lancashire Cup.

However, as Donnelly explains, results aren’t the be-all and end-all for his youngsters.

“We’re youth developers, so the players are always our focus and not the team,” Donnelly said.

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“However, that being said we always look to prioritise the cup competitions so being in the semi-final of the Youth Alliance Cup, the semi-final of the Lancashire Cup and the fifth round of the Youth Cup suggests we’ve got a decent group here.

“The league fixtures will always be about developing players and giving people lots of opportunities to play. Looking at league tables is never our focus at all.

“But the cup competitions are a good thing to gauge whether we have a good group that year and at the moment it looks like we have.

“If we can win some of these upcoming matches we can take it to a really exciting point of the season.”

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A number of Blackpool’s players have been sent out on loan in recent months in order to get a taste of men’s football.

That, Donnelly says, could prove crucial to the development of the club’s best young stars, a number of whom have penned professional contracts in recent weeks.

“It’s massive, but it’s good and bad, by the way,” he said.

“Two or three weeks ago we had 11 players out on loan and some of them have been playing really well, some of them have had chances in the team and come out of it.

“The experience is massive in its own way. You’re playing well and showing you can compete at the level you’re going to, then that’s fantastic.

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“If you have a poor experience where you’ve lost your place in the team, well how valuable is that for a young player to learn the ruthless nature of first-team football, where you might only get one chance to be in the team.

“The loan experience for our players is absolutely brilliant and I’m glad we’ve decided to go down this right and try and test our players earlier.

“We’re a Championship club and we’ve outgrown the Category Three model in my opinion, so to find new challenges for them by playing out on loan and progressing through the cup competitions is a better way for us to assess how good they are.”

Admission for supporters is free on Wednesday night, with fans housed in the West Stand at Bloomfield Road. The game kicks off at 7pm.

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