Mark Kennedy admitted Wolves Under-21s’ 3-0 defeat at Salford City in the Leasing.com Trophy was a learning curve and a case of ‘tough love’.
Wolves’ youngsters could have no complaints as they were well beaten by a strong League Two side to suffer their biggest defeat of the season.
Ultimately, Kennedy’s side were undone by goals from Luke Armstrong in the two minutes either side of half-time after they failed to cut out crosses, before Richie Towell’s 87th minute volley underlined Salford’s superiority.
Wolves, who featured 24-year-old Jordan Graham, didn’t lay a glove on Graham Alexander’s side, although Chem Campbell completely missed a headed chance and Elliot Watt’s free kick forced a routine save at 0-0 and Dion Sanderson hit the sidenetting late on.
“It will be what you call ‘tough love’ – it’s been a tough education but it’s something we have to embrace, not be precious or worry about ourselves, but take it on the chin and roll our sleeves up,” said caretaker coach Kennedy. “The big thing is what we learn from it but we will do that.
“Within three minutes either side of half-time the game was over. That was really disappointing because that was where we were exposed in terms of being young and naïve and where we are.
“We looked like a team of teenagers – which we mostly are – but I think they’ve worked so hard to get to a level where they look a good side.
“Every game I’ve been involved with up to now there has only been a goal in them, but Salford deserved their 3-0 win, no doubts.
“So there is a lot to learn from that, and it’s important we get that, but it’s only the first game where I’ve walked away really disappointed at the end as a coach.
“By the end, they looked like a League Two side and we looked like an academy side and that disappoints me.”
Kennedy added: “For 43 minutes we were very good – I thought we controlled the game really well, the build-up of play from the back was very good.
“You don’t want to be a team that has a 1,000 passes and doesn’t go anywhere.
“But I didn’t think it was too slow or possession going nowhere, I thought we probed quite well and got into some great pockets of space in the middle to final thirds of the pitch.
“We had possession with progression if you like. But unfortunately, once we got into the pockets, we weren’t a threat at all. The end product to hurt teams just wasn’t there.”
Wolves were without prolific striker Benny Ashley-Seal, who was preparing to be on the bench for the first team’s 2-0 win against West Ham 24 hours later.
But they failed to force a serious effort on target throughout the game, and it was their lack of movement that frustrated Kennedy the most.
“I said to the boys before the game, ‘you need to find out whether both full backs can defend one versus one, and whether the two centre halves can run, whether they are good in the air and whether they are good at dealing with balls down the sides of them’. We still don’t know that because we didn’t do it,” said the former Wolves winger.
“The things we talked about doing in the final third, we didn’t execute on the pitch.
“We have to take responsibility collectively as a team, to create spaces, but we were short on that.
“An example is we talked about our strikers just running in and stretching them when they get in behind, to get balls down the sides of the centre halves and full backs and to stretch the pitch so we could drive at them, but we didn’t do that.
“I know whether their defenders can run, but my players still don’t.
“Sometimes when you make a run, it’s not for you, it’s for someone else.
“At the business end which is what you’re judged on, we weren’t threatening at all.
“Sadly for us they were. Football’s judged in two boxes: How you defend one and how you finish in the other and we were poor in both. That’s why we got beat 3-0.”
Kennedy believes a lot of learning can come from those sorts of sobering nights however as he sought the positives.
“We’ve had a really good run – it’s the first time we have qualified for this round and hopefully it’s another stepping stone in the path of the academy and the players,” added the former Ireland winger.
“I said to them when I was Under-23s coach at Ipswich we played Cardiff at home and in the 45th minute it was 0-0 and by the 47th minute we were 3-0 down. But our players learned a lot from that.
“We had several from that team who are still having good careers, such as Jack Marriott, Teddy Bishop and Matt Clarke, who signed for Brighton for £3m and is on loan at Derby.
“That’s the challenge, not just to the group, but to myself as a coach about what can we learn to make sure those sorts of things don’t happen again.
“For example, Derby away in the league, we were 2-0 up and conceded very late on, at Blackpool we conceded a goal to lose really late, and we really felt we were turning the corner on that.
“This performance was a reminder of where we are, and from an educational point of view, there was a lot to learn from that.”
Kennedy was also unhappy to concede two goals from crosses into the box.
“I have lots of complaints. If you look at the stats, we’re in the bottom three in the league for conceding crosses,” he said.
“It’s something we’ve worked quite hard on, and before the first goal, I was screaming ‘stop the cross!’ and it came in.
“It was a good goal from them but a poor one from our view.
“Either side of half-time, in the space of three minutes, two crosses come in and we conceded two goals.
“That is disappointing but how do you learn?”