Welling United’s U23s enjoyed a hugely successful campaign with a second-place finish in the league, coming within touching distance of clinching the league title in their inaugural season in existence.
The club’s first development squad was created last summer and they certainly made a big impact in the Suburban Football League Premier Division alongside their more experienced opponents, losing just twice, fewer games than any other side, and only losing out to Aldershot Town in top spot by one point come the end of the season.
That, coupled with a number of youngsters stepping up to make their first-team debuts, made the 2022/23 season one to be proud of and an excellent platform to build from according to U23 boss Reece Parara.
“I’m so proud of the boys,” he explained.
“Especially when you consider we threw the squad together and recruited all within six weeks.
“When you look at the squad overall, they’re really young – we had a lot of first years who stepped in and did really well – so the overwhelming feeling is one of pride of the players and us as staff for managing to put together a really strong team in such a short period of time.”
The Wings secured 17 wins and five draws from their 24 games which left them just one point off of champions Aldershot and Parara believes that the disappointment of losing out after coming so close will only provide extra incentive to go one step further next term.
“The target was top five at the start of the season and there are some big clubs that have been doing it for years, like Bromley and Chippenham, who we finished above,” he said.
“To get second place in our first season is a big success, but I still find it difficult to accept that we didn’t win it! But looking at how young the squad is, they’ve done brilliantly to finish second and next year, the goal will be to kick on.
“The target has to be to win it. They’ve seen the standard and they know they’re more than good enough to play that standard. There were certain games where we picked up draws that should have been wins so hopefully those experiences and the disappointment they felt at the end will spur them on to not feel like that again next season and, hopefully, win it.”
No fewer than nine academy youngsters made their senior debuts last season, helping the Wings to the semi-finals of the Kent Senior Cup and the quarter-finals of the London Senior Cup, two of which also made their impact in the league.
Sam Bayford caught the eye with an outstanding league debut as he started in the 3-0 victory over Hampton & Richmond Borough in April, while Tom Osel impressed off the bench.
And Parara says it opens the door for more young players to make their mark with the first team in 2023/24.
“That’s the whole purpose of the U23s,” he explained.
“To push the boys, if they’re good enough, to play for the first team.
“That night against Hampton & Richmond, I thought, in my opinion, that Sam was the best player on the pitch. He was outstanding considering it was his first league appearance – to go in and hit the ground running – I’m really proud of him.
“Tom came off the bench as well and did really well so it was a really positive end to the season to get two boys playing in the National League, not just a cup competition.
“Hopefully, we can push more boys up next season, get them on the bench in the league and get them minutes if they prove that they’re good enough.
“We can only give them the opportunity and then it’s up to them to step up and show that they’re just as good, if not better, so it’s on them to prove that.
“Hopefully, come pre-season, some of these lads. Will be involved and they get the opportunity to stake their claim for a shirt.”
Early-bird season tickets for the 2023/24 campaign are now on sale with prices frozen until June 5th ahead of the new season as the club celebrates its 60th anniversary.