Derby County's Darren Wassall hoping for home spark in Youth Cup
DARREN Wassall has challenged his Derby County Under-18 side to emulate the club's first team when they run out at Pride Park Stadium in the FA Youth Cup tonight.
The Rams take on Gateshead in a third round tie (7pm) as they search for their first competitive win of the season.
Academy manager Wassall wants his youngsters to take inspiration from the senior side, who are unbeaten in seven matches at home.
"All the players go to all the first team games at Pride Park as part of their job," said Wassall.
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"And we need to take a leaf out of the first team's book, because their performances at home have been magnificent.
"It's not just the way they have played in terms of the technical ability but the tempo, desire and work rate has been second to none, as shown against Leeds on Saturday.
"The younger players should be learning from that, because that's how we want to play."
Wassall's squad will include 16-year-old striker Mason Bennett, who has been part of the first-team squad this season, but not 17-year-old midfielder Will Hughes, now a regular in Nigel Clough's side.
"Mason will be in the squad, which is a boost for us," said Wassall.
"We haven't seen much of him this season as he's been training with the first team, which is great for his development, but he's played a few games for us.
"He scored two goals against Leeds recently and got a very good goal against Sheffield Wednesday last week.
"So he's in good form for us and it's good to have him in the squad at any time, whether it is in the FA Youth Cup or the league."
Forward Kwame Thomas and defender Josh Lelan have both made the senior squad in the past, while Derby have a current England Under-16 international in left-back Max Lowe.
"Last season, we beat Arsenal and were unlucky to lose against Manchester United," said Wassall, who is without injured defender Sam Berry (knee).
"The nucleus of that squad – people like Josh Lelan, Rhys Sharpe, Andy Dales, Niall Dawkins, Adam Wixted, Dylan Hayes – are all still with us, so we've got enough experience to cope with playing at Pride Park.
"A lot of them have played for the under-21s as well, so that will have done them good too.
"We've also got Max Lowe, who is still at school but has been a regular in the side this season."
Of their 12 Professional Development League Two North fixtures this term, Derby Under-18s have drawn three and lost nine.
In contrast, Gateshead are top of the Football Conference Youth Alliance North Division – the same league as Ilkeston – with a 100% record.
They have already come through six rounds of the cup – most recently knocking out Preston North End and Doncaster Rovers.
"We don't want to slip up against Gateshead, who will provide formidable opposition," said Wassall.
"They have beaten Wrexham, Preston and Doncaster in the three previous rounds.
"They're on a roll, in the league and the cup, and it's up to us to stop that.
"Myself and (youth team coach) Pat Lyons went to watch them at Doncaster in the previous round and they thoroughly deserved their 2-1 victory.
"They are a good side and we keep reminding the players – underestimate them at your peril. We will treat them with the utmost respect."
Wassall expects Gateshead to be fired up as they target another League scalp.
"This is another cup final for them," he added. "They've been to Doncaster, which is a nice stadium, but Pride Park takes it to another level."
Season ticket holders from both clubs can watch tonight's match for free, while admission for non-season ticket holders is £3 for adults and £2 concessions.