In our latest Academy column, U18s boss Barry Lewtas assesses an encouraging start to the new season and reveals a very special recent guest to the Kirkby training pitches.

We have made a promising start to the season and we are pleased with the boys. They know there is a lot of hard work ahead but they are a good group of lads who want to improve on a daily basis and we will continue to do our utmost to help them on their pathway.

The Academy is a very buoyant place and there was a real excitement in the air recently when Sir Kenny Dalglish came down with Alex Inglethorpe for a few training sessions. It was great to see him and he is a regular visitor to Kirkby. We do a lot of individual work with the players and Sir Kenny and Alex worked with the strikers, which is just fantastic for the boys, to get someone of that calibre, stature and experience. He takes the time to speak to all of the boys. It was funny actually because I was doing all the heading and ugly work with our defenders and all the centre-backs must have been wishing they had been centre-forwards instead because they were stuck with me! It’s fantastic he and other former players take the time to come in and we are so grateful for them coming in and passing on knowledge, experience and expertise, which is invaluable for both players and staff.

So far at U18 level we have started the season with three wins and one defeat. It’s a positive start and we have built upon the work we did in pre-season when we were away on tour in Hungary and Germany. It’s so pleasing to see the hard work that the boys put in come to fruition where it matters on the pitch on a matchday. In terms of our first four games, I think we have done some things well but there is still much to improve on both individually and collectively. But, the overall start we have made is encouraging in terms of the way the boys have responded and a work ethic they have, not just on a Saturday but every day in training during the week. It fills me with confidence that we will continue to improve and develop as a group as well as individually of course.

We have got great competition for places and that is exactly what we want. We have a good squad of players and we have a number of boys working ever so hard to get a place in the team on a matchday, and this competition for opportunities is driving up standards in training. That is a credit to the young boys who have come into the team and done extremely well. The training has been really competitive and at the level we need, so that has played a big part in what we have been able to do so far.

Our new strikeforce of Paul Glatzel and Bobby Duncan has caught the eye so far and a lot of supporters have been talking about their early-season form. They are a real handful and can cause the opposition a lot of problems. Playing with a front two is a little bit different these days but they have good movement, good technical ability and the way they have built up an understanding has been positive. In terms of a partnership, I’m always a little bit careful because each boy is going to follow his own individual path and we are not necessarily creating a team. We are trying to develop individuals, but what I would say is it’s extremely positive that we have two boys at a similar age who are playing well together and are bringing the best out in each other. They are pushing each other and there is a really good relationship there. Let’s not forget about Fidel O’Rourke, who is waiting patiently for his chance. Fidel has scored a couple of hat-tricks in friendly games we have played recently and he is certainly knocking at the door. We have three centre-forwards who are mixing well on the pitch but also working extremely hard for each other off it as well.

I gave Paul the captain’s armband and he has deserved it so far. I have known Paul since he was in my group as an U15 player. I have seen his journey from U15 up to now and I have seen first hand the ups and downs he has had with his injury problems. He has been really unfortunate with injuries and he has dealt with an awful lot, some bad injuries as well, as he came back from a broken leg. Seeing how he has dealt with those setbacks and how tough he was during those moments convinced me that he was the right man to wear the armband, the way he conducted himself throughout that time and how mentally strong he was. He knows it’s only the beginning for him but seeing how he has come back since the start of the season and train how he has, I think he is a good role model. I certainly couldn’t have taken the armband off him at the minute with all the goals that he’s scoring! He deserves it and I’m pleased for him that he is getting recognition for what he is doing on the pitch. He knows the areas of his game he must develop and he is a very humble lad.