WATCH Stalybridge Celtic youngsters impress during first season in tougher league
Monday 21st May 2018 @ 10:21 by Mark Phillip
Football Sports

 

Following last season’s title success, Stalybridge Celtic’s Academy players have adapted to new life in a tougher league and consolidated their position in the Conference Alliance Under 19s Division.

Coached by head of academy Dave Sullivan, the squad went head to head with the likes of Stockport County, Hyde United and champions Chester, finishing seventh in a division of nine teams.

The players will now be aiming for an improved finish next season after gaining some valuable experience against better sides.

Sullivan, who previously coached at Bolton Wanderers and Stockport County, said he was extremely proud of the way in which his players conducted themselves throughout the season. Speaking to Reporter Sport, he said: “Winning the college league last year, and entering into the Under 19s league this season, is the equivalent of a first team winning the Championship and then staying up in the Premier League the following season.

“The qualifications at college have changed from a BTC to a BTEC, so that in itself has reduced training from three times a week to two.

“The lads have progressed and developed well, and testament to that is five of the players being recruited into the first team last season.”

One of the squad’s shining stars is goalkeeper Aidan Winterbottom.

After signing first team terms in January as a back up choice for Jack Walton, the 18-year-old made his debut in the 2-1 victory at Altrincham in March, before making a further two appearances between the sticks in the last two months of the season.

However, due to Celtic’s misfortune in the latter stages of the season – which included playing X games in X days – the youngster was forced to play outfield as well, in the 2-0 loss at Matlock Town and 5-0 defeat to Witton Albion. Reflecting on the former result, he said: “I got told a couple of lads couldn’t come because their car had broken down, so I was told I would have to be an outfield player/goalkeeper on the bench.

“Unfortunately one of the lads got cramp and so I had to take his place. To be honest I didn’t really know what I was doing – I was just told to go and on press players, close the ball down and not give up.

“It wasn’t my favourite way of coming onto the pitch – I would have rather done it in goal – but I still put a shift in for my team and I’d do it more often if I had to, just to make sure the team has the numbers.”

Having sampled a taste of first team action, Winterbottom says he’s hungry for more.

And the shot stopper could well get his chance, as new manager Simon Haworth, who held a meet the manager event last week, said he’s more than willing to work with the youngsters.

Sullivan said he was impressed by Haworth and believes the future is bright with the Welshman in charge. “That was the first time I met him, but what a great person” said Sullivan of Haworth.

“He couldn’t have spoken highly enough of the youth. He’s aware of the budget and knows that he will have to work with ourselves, Danny, and Mike Smith in the community, to make sure that Stalybridge Celtic’s first team is a success, whether that be finishing mid table, getting to a cup final or just playing some attractive football, and so I’m sure that myself, Danny and the academy will do everything possible to help Simon and his assistant going forward.”

Another player to have made the step up into the first team last season is Portugese striker, Eli Fernandes.

He believes that, given the chance, he can score 10-15 goals next season.

Do you think you could be the next star at Stalybridge Celtic? If so, the club is holding a trial on Friday, June 22, at Stockport Sports Village from 6-8pm.

Those wishing to find out more can contact Sullivan on the following: [email protected]