WANDERERS Under-18s had a lot to live up to after the Class of 2013 reached the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup with some stunning displays.
With many of that side graduating to the U21 development squad, coaches David Lee and Tony Kelly were focusing on guiding the next crop.
But it was a dreadful start results-wise as the youngsters picked up just two points from their first 14 matches.
A creditable 1-1 draw at Arsenal, earned by a Guillermo Torres strike, saw them pick up their first FA U18 Premier League North Group point, and they doubled that tally with a goalless home draw against Stoke.
Lee stressed the importance of developing players over results, particularly with several u16s youngsters promoted to the squad.
They broke their winless duck in the final league game before Christmas with a 4-1 win against Wolves.
There was FA Youth Cup heartache in the last match of 2013 when Will Jaaskelainen emulated dad Jussi with a string of fine saves at the Reebok Stadium. When Will Abbotts rifled in a last-gasp leveller against Sheffield United, it looked like another cup run was on the cards. But a penalty shootout went the way of the Blades (4-3) after extra time.
The U18s bounced back in style in the new year, winning nine and losing two league matches.
Wanderers completed a double over Manchester United and recorded impressive home victories against Manchester City (5-2) and Liverpool (4-2).
And while the results tailed off at the end of the campaign as the team finished ninth, there were many positives – not least the emergence of 17-goal top scorer Jamie Thomas.
Abbotts scored seven and Christopher Cvetko six as 12 different players got on the scoresheet during the season – Tom Walker and Aaron Knight scoring for the U18s and U21s.
Blackpool-born 17-year-old Thomas is certainly one to watch next season after his haul, according to Lee.
He said: “Jamie has got 17 goals this season and is a natural goalscorer.
“He has lots of potential and I have high hopes he can progress because it’s a case of ‘once a goalscorer, always a goalscorer’ for me at any level.
“He has been with us since the U14s after being at Blackpool and he has definitely been a plus point this season.”
Former Youth front men Sanmi Odelusi, Tom Youngs and Zach Clough have already advanced into the first-team picture; Thomas could be the next one to watch.