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Dover Athletic Academy boss Mike Sandmann reflects on FA Youth Cup defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion and looks for cup heroes to earn first-team places

The job isn’t yet done with Dover’s young cup heroes for Academy manager Mike Sandmann.

Whites’ youngsters bowed out of the FA Youth Cup with their heads held high last Wednesday, narrowly losing 2-1 to Premier League Brighton in the Third Round.

Dover Athletic's Academy all smiles after their FA Youth Cup match at Brighton. Picture: Richard Harvey/ Dover Athletic FC
Dover Athletic's Academy all smiles after their FA Youth Cup match at Brighton. Picture: Richard Harvey/ Dover Athletic FC

It’s been a remarkable journey for Dover, who have even been contacted by Manchester City - Brighton’s next cup opponents - since the tie. They are unbeaten this season in six National League under-19 Alliance South Division fixtures, too.

But Sandmann, also a coach with the club’s first-team, is refusing to rest on his laurels.

He said: “For me, it’s about pushing these players into the first-team.

"The manager [Andy Hessenthaler] was there. Like everybody else, he was very impressed.

“But for me if none of them push on - despite the four-month unbeaten run and FA Youth Cup run - the job will not have been done.”

Sandmann praised his charges after the Brighton defeat.

“I was so proud of the performance,” he said.

“But there was still a little element of disappointment for the players after the game.

“We rode our luck at times but we pushed a Premier League team all the way. We did our homework on them.

“Our preparations actually were a bit hindered. We could not get on the training pitch for two days [due to the snow], so there was lots of video analysis.

"The boys understood what we wanted and we nearly got our reward for it, but it was not to be.

“We have had contact from Man City to get the video.

"Man City are contacting Dover Athletic, which is just incredible!”

The hosts led 2-0 at half-time before substitute Tim Marapara reduced the deficit in the 64th minute to set up a nervy finish for the higher-league home team.

Sandmann reflected: “We knew they were a Premier League club and we watched them against Crystal Palace, and a few games on video. We said before [the game] we have only one shot, let’s show the best version of ourselves and have a game.

“Obviously, we allowed them to have a lot of the ball, but we got down the sides. Credit to the boys.

“They were saying at half-time at 2-0 down ‘We should be doing better’. Despite not having a lot of the ball, they kept disciplined and stuck to the game-plan. At half-time, we spoke about getting higher.

“It’s difficult for young players. They’re losing the game and emotions are running high but they stuck to what we were doing.

“Of course Brighton had chances, they’re a Premier League side, so they’re going to. But once we scored, the match lit-up and then we had a great chance just after as well.

“You could see their keeper getting booked for time-wasting and their manager kicking the ball away.

“We forced them into a position where we made it into a game.”

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