Darren Powell feels practice made perfect for Crystal Palace Under-21s in their Premier League International Cup semi-final victory over Valencia Mestalla.
The Eagles reached the Final of the competition, which is designed to pit England’s best Academies against those on the continent, for the first time on Wednesday evening with a 5-3 penalty shoot-out win at Selhurst Park.
Jadna Raymond’s first-half goal was cancelled out in the second period by Valencia’s Pablo Gozalbez, but – in an effort praised by Powell – his side continued to plug throughout the 120 minutes and were fully deserving of their progression.
Powell said: “It was another strong performance from the boys. It was never going to be easy, but again… I speak about it all the time: the mentality and strength of character of these boys, these players, is excellent.
“They stuck together as you have to against a good side in Valencia. They hadn’t lost in this competition before tonight. It was a great mentality and a good performance from all the players.
“We actually practised them [penalties] yesterday! I asked the players who wanted to take them – I’m not going to dictate, I don’t want to put anyone under pressure, whoever felt comfortable and competent to take one, they can take it.
“I did look down and I saw a few defenders and I thought… ‘okay, not many attacking players’ – but they stepped up, took them, and took them well!”
Powell did feel that lessons could be learned from the nature of the display, adding: “We had some good spells in the game, and when you’re on top and you’re having these good spells, you need to get a goal or get another goal. We didn’t capitalise on it, so we left the game open.
“They ended up getting an equaliser and it went all the way, but we’ve got to understand that when we are on top of the game and we do create chances, we’ve got to take them.”
The manager was, however, pleased to witness a strong backing for Palace in SE25 for the occasion – and has called on even more fans to attend when Selhurst Park hosts the Final of the competition against PSV Eindhoven, with full details to be announced.
“It spurs them on. They love it,” Powell smiled. “At this age now they’re preparing themselves for playing first-team football, whether it’s here or on loan, and it’s good to see them dealing with the ups and downs of games with a crowd behind them.
“We played in the Papa John’s Trophy with a crowd not with us – how do you deal with the pressure? – but it’s been a good experience for them in terms of dealing with it.
“They love it. They love playing at Selhurst Park. It gives them an extra spring in their step. It’s brilliant, and it’s good to see the crowd come out for young players: young supporters and families coming out and hearing the noise, it does push you.
“Again, for PSV, hopefully we’ll get a good turnout and hopefully have even more of a backing.”