Youth team head coach Dan Nolan admits the start of the new season has been a steep learning curve for his young under-18s side, following their Youth Cup derby defeat to Chester.
Top scorer Sam Pilkington and captain Matty Sargent scored the pick of the goals in the cross-border derby at Chester, but the Dragons succumbed to a 3-2 defeat – with two of the Chester goals coming from near-identical corners.
And Nolan, who was appointed Head of Youth on a full-time basis in the summer, admitted Chester’s physicality had been a key difference between the two teams.
“I thought they showed a lot of personality in the second-half, especially at 1-0 down to be able to get back into the game,” Nolan said.
“We made a couple of tweaks at half-time and I thought that helped them and they were able to take that on board and implement those changes.
“That was a real positive and I thought at 1-1 we were going to go on to win the game in all honesty. I thought we were on top but unfortunately, again, we weren’t able to defend set pieces and that has changed the game.
“I thought we were unable to deal with their strengths. We played well for large periods, especially in the second half, but ultimately you’ve got to be able to do every facet of the game – rather than just the bits you enjoy – and that’s where we struggled.
“We are a young team, we had two under-16s playing as well and I thought both did really well, but it’s irrelevant really – you’ve got to be able to cope with it and to win games you’ve got to be able to stand up to different styles and different types.
“What Chester did, I thought they did very well and ultimately we weren’t able to cope with it.”
Nolan refused to blame the age difference between the two teams for the result, despite only three second-year scholars having been available for the young Dragons at Chester.
But he hopes the step up the players have experienced since graduating from under-16 level in the summer will prove beneficial in the long term.
“We are young – it’s not an excuse for the result – but we are young and hopefully we’ll bear the fruit of that as we get further down the line,” he said.
“It’s a steep learning curve for some of them [but] what I will say, is they are able to take information on and they are able to develop; they have been developing and you saw that we played some good football at times.
“Again, that hasn’t won the game but they are playing some good football and ultimately it’s about getting those boys ready and prepared for the first team hopefully.
“Losing is a horrible feeling – it’s horrible, whether you lose to a local rival like Chester or anyone else in the league and cup. It always stings.
“However, being able to move forward, it goes one of two ways – they either take it on board and improve from it or… it’s sink or swim really. In development, results are important, absolutely, but the key is development and preparing them for the first team.”