BRAIN TRAINING: Danny Searle is reaping the benefits of giving youth a chance at Braintree. PICTURE: Jon Weaver
By Jon Couch
They may be down, but Braintree Town are certainly not out.
In fact, despite having their relegation from the National League confirmed last Saturday, the future is looking very bright at Cressing Road.
The Iron’s fate was sealed amidst a tinge of irony after a 2-0 victory over Gateshead lifted them off the bottom of the top-flight table for the first time this calendar year.
But it was the manner of the performance which delighted ambitious boss Danny Searle, especially given the Essex side’s squad had an average age of just 20 years and six months.
In the last couple of weeks, Searle has handed debuts to two 16-year-olds in Shane Temple and Kieran Smith and a 17-year-old striker in Jayden Gipson, while 18-year-old local boy Alfie Cerulli also climbed off the substitutes’ bench on Saturday to net his first senior goal.
At the same time, Searle has handed opportunities to the likes of 20-year-old centre-back Dan Matsuzaka, who has his sights set on representing Japan at the 2020 Olympic Games, and highly-rated winger Mo Sagaf, who has taken his chance since joining the club from Leatherhead.
It’s a talent boom which keeps the Iron striking hot and gives Searle hope for a prosperous comeback season in National League South next year, while still operating on a shoestring budget.
“These are exciting times,” Searle told The NLP. “A club like Braintree hasn’t got the resources to attract the big-name players so, given our predicament, we invited a few youth team players to train with the first team to take a look at them and they deserved their chance.
“Since then, our performances have improved and that showed on Saturday, I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“Yes, they are going to make mistakes and the odd silly error, but that’s how they learn and I’m proud of the fact that Braintree Town has the vision to give these young players a pathway into senior football.”
Searle, 41, admits that preparations for next season at Step 2 have already begun in earnest, but says his top priority is still to finish this top-flight campaign on a high.
“There’s always a balance but we owe it to the integrity of the league to play the strongest team we possibly can and to try and instil the ethic of going out to win football matches,” added Searle, who has previously coached in academies at Chelsea, West Ham, Charlton and Southend.
“It’s like a mini pre-season before pre-season actually starts.
“We are lucky here in that the board will not do anything to put this football club at risk.
“We have to cut our cloth accordingly and work around any barriers which exist. They share my vision in developing our own players.
“There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to tying these young players down – they will probably start after Easter.
“But one thing I do know is that they are young, hungry and want to play for this football club, and that fits perfectly in our remit going forward.”