After a wonderful season with our U18s, Hayden Pickard spoke of his pride as the young Reds reached the Professional Development League play-offs.

It’s the first time one of our academy teams has finished in the top two since the introduction of the Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in 2011, and it was just a reward for the numerous incredible performances throughout the campaign.

“It’s a bit mixed because in a way we broke record points for the U18 side – we’re the first team to make the play-offs and beat some really good teams.” reflected our young full-back.

“But then, in the other sense, how we lost the playoffs, took a 2-0 lead with ten minutes to go and then Charlton obviously scored three goals in a short period of time.

“Well, it’s a mixed one; There were good things, but there were bad things too.

“When we lost to Hull most of us thought it was done. But we dug deep and got two great results against Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton and our spirits were high and we managed to come through.

“Well, I’m proud.”

It’s been a productive term for Pickard, who has notched up a slew of goalscoring efforts alongside his stunning performances for Tom Harban’s side.

The youngster, who acted at left-back for much of the campaign, was influential as he rushed down the flank and delivered cross after cross to allow his team-mates to convert.

“I’ve got a few goals and quite a few assists” smiled Pickard. “I think I’ve improved defensively but there’s more – you can always improve your game and I have to keep doing that.

“I’m at my best when I’ve got grass in front of me. When the ball is at my feet I can get it and drive it, then I’m one-on-one with the full-back and it only takes half a meter to whip the ball in.”

Pickard is only 16 until August and is the youngest of our freshmen but has been playing at this level for two years and certainly doesn’t look out of place.

He was our 20/21 Academy Player of the Season – a crown he recently presented to Fabio Jalo, whom he praised for his incredible ability in front of goal.

“It’s amazing – he’s amazing too,” praised our youngster. “Even though he’s small, I could stick one up and he’ll lead it. It’s just good to know that he can score from anywhere.

“If I do a through ball and it’s a little off, there’s an 80 percent chance it’ll still get there – touch, bang, back of the net.

“I think he and Josiah are a good mix because Fabio is someone who can follow and Josiah has a tall frame, 6ft 3, which makes my job a lot easier.”

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