This side has Stoke City running through it like a stick of rock – Rich Walker hoping for PL Cup final shock at Man City



This is a Stoke City side that has Stoke City running all the way through it like a stick of rock.

Not only are there Stoke fans down the spine of the under-18s side heading to Manchester City for the PL Cup final tonight – led by captain Adam Porter – but they play with a checklist for the famous old DNA: hard work, aggression, an eagerness to get on the front foot and no little quality.

So it might not be a coincidence that they’ve received good luck messages this week from the likes of Jon Walters, Andy Wilkinson and Ricardo Fuller.

And hopefully there will be a big following of supporters too. It was three years ago to the day that 1,400 Stoke fans made the trip to the same Academy Stadium for the FA Youth Cup semi-final.

Coach Rich Walker said: “All the noises suggest we’ll take a massive following and the boys are excited by that.

“We’ve had messages from Jon Walters, Wilko, Ric and I know Lou Macari will be going and it should be a proper Stoke night. Our fans make a lot of noise and I think that’ll make a lot of difference to the boys.

“We went to their stadium last week and we could have an atmosphere that makes it feel like a home tie if early indications come true.

“I like to think we’ve got a good Stoke City identity. They work their socks off, they play on the front foot in and out of possession, we’ve got good honest lads, honest staff and we’ll go after the opposition as we always will.

“We’ve got strikers who, if they get chances, score goals, we’ve got midfielders who get onto the ball and play and have energy and intensity and defenders who like defending. You’ll see a real honest side who will hopefully step up to the plate on the evening.”

It was a shock when Stoke were knocked out of the FA Youth Cup on penalties at Bradford, particularly because this side is so highly-regarded and committed.

They have kept chalking up excellent wins, including over Manchester United, Everton, West Ham and Newcastle – and produced star turns in this PL Cup, which is exclusively for category one academies.

Norwich were walloped 8-0 in the quarter-finals when front pair Mo Sankoh and Andre Godfrinne ran riot, then Chelsea were overcome 2-1 in the semis.

Walker said: “They’re a good group, a really good group to work with. You hear horror stories from other Academies but we’ve got good humility here. Dave Hibbert and myself really enjoy working with this group.

“As with any under-18s group there are areas to develop and that’s ongoing but we enjoy working with them and we’re proud of what they do. They make our job easy and the hard work they do is starting to come together nicely.

“It’s an occasion to enjoy, for sure, and we’ve come a long way in the cup – but the objective is to come home with the trophy.”

Manchester City are the current holders, beating Middlesbrough in last year’s final, and will be led by striker Liam Delap, son of Rory, and midfielder Tommy Doyle, grandson of Mike.

“They’re full of quality,” said Walker.

“They’ve invested heavily in the group they’ve got and the Academy as a whole. They’ll look to dominate the ball, they’ve got pace and athleticism in attack and they are not dissimilar to their first team in how they go about their business.

“There are areas we’ll have to address. They’re a good side – but so are we.”





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