Youth at the heart of Middlesbrough’s shootout success

Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis
Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis
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Tony Pulis hailed his Middlesbrough youngsters as they claimed a 4-3 penalty shoot-out win over Notts County to reach the second round of the Carabao Cup.

A Boro side featuring seven debutants and eight players aged 21 or under were able to celebrate after Andy Lonergan saved two spot-kicks in the shoot-out following a 3-3 draw after 90 minutes.

Teenagers Stephen Walker and Marcus Tavernier both scored penalties for Middlesbrough, while Nathan Wood came off the bench to become the club’s youngest ever player at the age of 16 years and 75 days.

Pulis said: “It was absolutely fantastic to get all of them on the pitch,” said Pulis, who saw Ashley Fletcher score twice to peg back a Notts County side that also boasted a brace from Jon Stead.

“It was some game. There were six goals, we’ve come from behind three times and I think we ended the game having played eight young academy players. Then we won the penalty shoot-out.

“The support was fantastic. The supporters have come here wanting to enjoy a night, and they’ve seen the young players play. The young ones have enjoyed it, the supporters have enjoyed it and we’ve won, so it’s been a good night.

“Football clubs spend a lot of money on their academies now, and sometimes you get criticised for playing the young players in these competitions. But I’m a great believer that the kids have to play.

“Young players today, playing academy football, it’s not really what is needed to become a professional footballer. When you go out to clubs, you’re playing for a manager who needs to win games because he needs to keep his job.

“If you gave me the chance and the option, I’d get the kids out playing football every week, whether it was in the top tiers of non-league football or any of the leagues.”