Steins Thistle enjoyed a comfortable 5-2 win over Cumbernauld Colts last Sunday to cement their position at the top of the u19's Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Youth League. Boasting a 100% record, Steins top the table, on 18 points, five clear of their closest rivals Campsie.
I recently spoke with club manager, Kevin Valentine, who believes that striking the right age balance has been the key to his side’s recent impressive league form. “We’ve achieved a fine balance in terms of the age of the players" he said. "75% of our players are 1998’s who have been together for years and know each other well. The other 25% are1997’s, and are also big players for us. Each one has brought a winning mentality, and their character is really strong. They have been a positive influence on the younger players who take a lead from them.”
And it would seem that finding this mix of youth and experience isn’t the only balancing act steins have been performing this season. The boys have been prolific in front of goal, scoring 24 en-route to their six league victories. A healthy average of four goals per game, and by far the most pleasing aspect for Kevin; they have come from every area of the team.
“This was an Achilles heel last year when we were too reliant on certain players" he said. "We now have goal scorers throughout the team, taking a huge weight off the lads from last year. More importantly, we have players who can score goals out of nothing and players who really make it happen in the final third. We look more of a threat and are much more difficult to defend against.”
It is not solely attacking prowess that sees them sit top of the table however, an excellent defensive record has played its part in their success. The boys proved difficult for teams to break down last season and this campaign has been no different as they have conceded just seven goals.
With one of Kevin’s coaching mantras being “defend from the front”, he is particularly proud of this aspect of the team’s play, saying “This is an area where we pride ourselves. We pay particular attention to defending set-pieces. So far this season we have yet to concede a goal when defending a corner kick.”
Immediate attention will remain focussed on league business, with Steins travelling to Fallin Violets on Sunday. Confidence is high amongst the boys, but nothing is being taken fore granted. “We were dominant against good sides in Campsie and Cumbernauld Utd, but this is a very competitive league" he said. "I have way too much respect for these teams to believe that we can continue our 100% record for too long. It will be how we react to a setback that determines our success. We have to keep working hard and continue improving because teams are now going to be highly motivated against us.”
In spite of erring on the side of caution with regard to setting long-term team goals, Kevin does feel that Steins are on course to do very well this season, saying "I prefer to study individual and player performance levels week to week and look to gradually improve them. We have a young squad, so the key for me is progress in their maturity levels and understanding of the dynamics of the game. This, coupled with a healthy desire to win games will insure that we do well. I also want the squad to enjoy the season and remember their time at Steins fondly when they do decide to leave.”