Academy manager looks ahead to King Power testOrient under-18s boss Richard Thomas believes preparation for tonight’s FA Youth Cup Third Round tie at Premier League champions Leicester City couldn’t have gone much better as they look to cause an upset.
The O’s extended their unbeaten run this season to 20 games with a 3-2 come-from-behind Merit League Division One victory against MK Dons at the weekend, with a late Ruel Sotiriou goal sealing the win.
“It’s the first time we have come from behind to win a game and it was another tick on the list of things to try and achieve this season,” Thomas told leytonorient.com.
“It's things like this that they will have to learn and be able to do when they crack it as professionals so it is a real big positive that with so few minutes left on the clock they were so resilient, had the belief and the character to not only get a second but to go one better and get a winner.
“It is a fantastic morale boost and simply cements how they have performed all season.”
While the O’s remain unbeaten they will be coming up against tough opposition tonight, and Thomas hopes the thorough preparation will stand his side in good stead.
“In terms of preparation I do not think it could have gone much better,” he added.
“We have spent a month working on different scenarios we may face on the night because we do not know exactly how they will approach the game.
“They are huge favourites and they work at a different level to us every week in their match programme.
“What they do daily we don’t know but you can be sure it is of a good calibre so we need to be prepared for different eventualities.
“We have worked at that and treated our last four league games as Leicester. We have put a lot of time and effort in and whether it pays off on the night depends on if the lads can execute it.
“Our best may not be good enough, because they are at a completely different level to us, but I think if we can be anywhere near our consistent, regular performances then we should be able to compete, but time will tell.”
Thomas welcomed back skipper Charley Barker to the side in Saturday’s game following four months out with stress fracture in the lower back, and he had an immediate impact in setting up the equaliser, before also playing a part in the winner.
And while the captain will be restricted in minutes tonight, the O’s boss believes he can play a big part.
“It is a huge lift for Charley personally, us as staff and for the other players around him,” remarked Thomas.
“He walked back on the pitch and set up the second goal inside a minute and put in a huge tackle in the next, and he has walked back in the team like he has never been away. It is fantastic for him and everyone involved.
“Unfortunately he will be having to make an impact from the bench. He is the captain and captain for a reason. He’s a central midfielder and pivotal to everything we were doing prior to his injury.
“It is a shame that the game probably arrives two games too early. I have prepared him to be a sub and potentially the first one who comes on if that is our best option in a particular situation, but he may not be able to get through more than 45-50 minutes.
“What he brings to the team in that time is invaluable. I’ve told him he may have to come off again if he runs out of energy but that’s not a problem because for the amount of time he is on the pitch he will bring a lot.”
Playing at such an illustrious stadium is a big drawer for both Thomas and the team, but the O’s manager is delighted with the way they are taking it in their stride.
“A number of the lads are unfazed by this test which is amazing. It is so surprising to see from such a group of young lads – so many of them are confident,” he said.
“They cannot wait to get there on the surface and the way we generally play it suits us. I am aware we may not see the ball for large chunks of the game but when we do have the ball and we try to play that surface will suit us as much as any club.
“The dimensions of the pitch are the same as Southend United more or less so the lads know what they did at Southend. It is different opposition but everything is set up for our lads – the mentality and the fact they love playing on this stage and they want to play in front of crowds at places like the King Power.
“As much as I expect one or two to freeze somewhere along the line for brief periods I think the other seven or eight will be able to keep us in the game so we will see how it develops as the night goes on.”
If you fancy cheering the young O’s on at the King Power Stadium tonight admission if £3 adults and £1 concessions.
Can’t make it? Follow live updates on the O’s official Twitter feed from 7pm.