City&aposs youngsters fell to a frustrating 3-0 defeat at Bradford on Tuesday to exit the competition that pits academy sides against EFL opposition at the group stages. It is the third year in a row that City have failed to reach the knockout stages.
But head coach Brian Barry-Murphy says the current group of academy players should not be judged against previous years as they are an almost-completely different squad. Over the summer, City saw most of their title-winning players from the academy leave on permanent or loan deals, leaving a new cohort of players experiencing their first season with the under-21s.
Despite another disappointing EFL Trophy campaign, Barry-Murphy was looking to the positives – particularly for his defenders who conceded two identical goals to wily striker Tyler Smith – with the forward&aposs hat-trick goal coming from a corner won after another direct ball down the middle to set him free.
“In years gone by I&aposd say we absolutely deserved to win the game, but really it&aposs good for our players to have that understanding of playing against a really experienced Championship striker, now playing in League Two,” the coach told MEN Sport. “Knowing that while we&aposre attacking and building up and creating good chances, in a quick transition with one pass he&aposs in on goal.
“We saw in the preparation how they do that, but actually dealing with it on the pitch is a different thing. The only way the players will learn is actually experiencing that.
“At this club, the big challenge is to produce centre-backs of a really high level, because we probably haven&apost been able to do that. There&aposs a lot of factors to link to that.”
While City will learn a lot from defeats to Bradford and Barnsley – plus a penalty shoot-out win at Grimsby – Barry-Murphy admitted there is some regret at not reaching the knockout stages, even if the young squad faced an uphill battle to get there.
“We want the players to have that feeling of having to win a game to progress. We&aposre one of the biggest clubs in the world and they have to feel that and have that expectation,” Barry-Murphy said. “That was the most disappointing thing that we won&apost get to experience that for another season.
“The only thing I&aposm thinking ahead of myself is that it&aposs such a young group that I&aposm hoping some of these players will get the chance to do it again next season. The group tonight, there&aposs only Micah [Hamilton] and Lakyle [Samuel] who had experience of this competition last season. We don&apost get the chance to learn from last season because the nature of the club is that the group moves on quite quickly here.