AFC Telford kids are gunning for a league and cup double

Paul Jones hopes AFC Telford United under-18s Shropshire FA Premier Youth Cup success this week is the first of a major double.

Aaron Eccleston in action Photo: Kieren Griffin
Aaron Eccleston in action Photo: Kieren Griffin

The junior Bucks have enjoyed a fine couple of years under Jones’ stewardship, since the manager joined the club in 2019.

The pandemic scuppered their shot at league and cup triumphs last season, but the under-18s are on course for a memorable end to the 2021/22 campaign.

They prevailed against Haughmond under-18s in a marathon penalty shootout on Wednesday evening to jubilant scenes at the New Bucks Head, and could see themselves crowned champions of the Midland Junior Premier League.

Jones’ side currently lead the way from AFC Rushden & Diamonds Academy in the giant league of 54 teams. Rushden are three games behind and unable to fulfil their fixtures in time, so have qualified for an end-of-season play-off title decider against Telford at a neutral venue on a date to be confirmed.

Telford must first get through their final regular league fixture against the Carl Baker Academy today, but the boss already has his sights on a Diamonds grudge match.

Jones, who joined Telford from Hednesford Town, said: “We’re top of the MJPL, which is the elite league, with teams like Mansfield and Coventry.

“They can’t fit their games in but can catch us on points so it’s going to a play-off. We just have to win today for a play-off for the title. Next week will be the big one, even if we were given the title instead of the game, I would take that play-off every day.”

Jones’ Telford were unbeaten in almost two years prior to the latest lockdown period, but have been ravaged by injuries since returning and lost three games, including two in the league.

The boss lifted the side from mid-table to fifth and two cup finals last season, but were denied the shot at silverware by Covid-19.

The young Bucks edged beyond Haughmond in dramatic fashion on spot-kicks, winning 12-11, on Wednesday.

Goalkeeper Aaron Eccleston saved two – and scored himself – before Abdo Habib Said notched the winner.

“We should’ve won it in 90 minutes but it went to penalties and I lost two stone!” Jones laughed. “There were some of the best penalties from kids I’ve ever seen. Kids under pressure in front of a crowd of 500 or 600.”

The club hope for a bigger crowd at the play-off title decider, with venue and date still to be confirmed.

Jones is meeting with the club’s hierarchy in the coming weeks to decide on the next step for the club’s under-18s team and talented crop of players.

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