'A season of progress'

26th May 2018

Gary Richards reflects on another season of progress after Swansea City Under-23s impressed in their debut campaign in the top flight of development football.

A tally of 11 wins in Premier League 2 helped the young Swans secure fourth place in Division 1 following the title-winning campaign that earned them promotion in 2016-17.

Victories over development sides from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United this season helped the Swans stage a late title surge before a narrow defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in April ended their hopes of finishing on top.

Nevertheless, it was a fine campaign.

The under-23s also defeated three League Two sides in the Checkatrade Trophy, and only missed out on retaining the Premier League Cup after losing a penalty shootout to Aston Villa in the final.

Despite not lifting back-to-back cups, Richards believes the Swans’ next generation can be proud of their achievements in 2017-18.

“It is disappointing to think we were a penalty shootout away from defending that title but there are plenty of positives to take,” he said.

“It was a season of progress for us. After promotion the year before, we were not too sure how competitive we could be in the top division.

“We met our match in the first few games with some tough results going against us.

“But the dedication and determination to improve and compete at a higher level showed as we turned the results around.

“We were delighted with the consistency we showed during the second half of the season. It put us within touching distance of winning the league.

“The fact we challenged for top spot in the latter stages of the season shows how well our young players did across the whole campaign.

“We also competed in the Checkatrade Trophy, where we defeated three EFL teams, and almost defended the Premier League Cup.”

On top of the impressive results on the pitch, nine development players went out on loan to Football League or Scottish League sides, with striker Oli McBurnie scoring nine goals in a 17-game stint with Championship side Barnsley.

Three development players also made their first-team debuts for the Swans, with midfielders Adnan Maric and Daniel James featuring against Notts County in the FA Cup.

James even chipped in with a goal in the Swans’ thumping 8-1 victory.

The other player to make his first-team bow was Connor Roberts.

The defender spent the first half of the season on loan at Middlesbrough, but racked up 11 senior Swans appearances under Carlos Carvalhal after returning to SA1 in January and made his full international debut with Wales.

“The highlight of this season was seeing our players progress to play at first-team level,” Richards added.

“To see Connor Roberts make his Swansea City debut and continue a role with the first team and also make his international debut with Wales was outstanding.

“It was also great to see Daniel James and Adnan Maric get their chance with the first team in the FA Cup.

“They are players who myself and Cameron (Toshack) have worked with for a number of seasons and all those players made their first-team debuts through different journeys.

“Daniel and Adnan are two players we worked with at under-18 level when they joined the academy, so it was a proud moment for us to see them take that next step in football.

“We believe we have more players who can take that step up to first-team level.

“We are pleased with everything we have achieved this season but we are aiming for more progress.

“Our aim will be to build on this campaign, show we can continue to compete at this level and keep developing players for the first team.”