Pat Lyons has made it clear that Saturday’s unique Emirates FA Cup Third Round tie at Chorley should be viewed as a great opportunity to shine for Derby County’s youngsters.
After the club reported several positive COVID-19 tests earlier this week, for first-team staff members and players, and Moor Farm Training Ground was closed with immediate effect.
In line with UK Government guidelines and protocols, those individuals that tested positive and those that have been in close contact with them must self-isolate for a period.
Subsequently, Derby’s FA Cup tie at the National League North side will still go ahead on Saturday (12:15pm kick-off) - but no first-team staff or players will be in attendance and the Rams will be represented by Under-23 and Under-18 squad members and staff.
Lyons, the club’s Senior Professional Development Phase Coach, and Professional Development Phase Coach Gary Bowyer will take charge of the side and have overseen preparations over the course of this week.
It is a situation Lyons and everyone involved did not expect, but the challenge is being met head on.
Speaking to RamsTV on Friday morning Lyons said: “First and foremost, this situation of me sitting here is because of a virus (COVID-19) and we have got to firstly think of the staff and the players that are ill and their families and we wish them a speedy recovery.
“The first I heard about what was happening was on Tuesday. Wayne phoned me and explained the situation. He has been great and supportive and said for me and Gary set the team up and do it the way we want.
“When you have been in football long enough and with the situation that is happening, nothing surprises you. We just have to prepare the best we can.”
He added: “As you can imagine it has been a bit mad and as I sit in this chair now, it’s obviously a surreal moment, but a proud moment as well.
“I have been at the club a long time and I am also looking forward to the game on Saturday and everything that goes with it. We should all look forward to it. It has been a busy week but now everything is getting nearer to game day, let’s go and enjoy it.”
Several members of Derby’s Under-23 squad, such as Jack Stretton, Kornell McDonald, Jahmal Hector-Ingram and Louie Watson, have been part of the first-team set-up for training and games in recent weeks.
Therefore, they will not be able to feature against Chorley and, along with injuries within the squad, it has made putting a team together another interesting experience.
Lyons says it is something that shouldn’t be used as an excuse and any hurdles to overcome have been viewed with a positive mindset.
He said: “There are quite a lot of Under-23s with the first-team squad, so they can’t play. We have got several injuries in the Under-23s - probably four or five - that leaves us with about 20 players with Under-18s and Under-23s.
“We have been training with them this week, coming up with what we think the best squad going forward will be and what team we are going to select on Saturday.”
“Someone on Saturday is going to surprise us and that is what we are excited about. Someone is going to surprise us and for maybe a few of them, it is the platform for them to go even further.”
Lyons has admitted that the staff and players have enjoyed a mixture of emotions over the course of this week.
Most importantly, he is looking forward to seeing how the youngsters handle the occasion and stand up the challenge.
He explained: “After we found out on Tuesday, the first thing we had to do was sort out the logistics of staff in and sort how we communicate that with the players.
“We got them on Zoom and we had to communicate it that way. We came in on Wednesday to Pride Park (meeting area) and there was a very excited, apprehensive, nervous about the challenge ahead.
“Logistically, some of these are Under-18s and can’t drive. We had to ask how do we get them to places and organise training facilities, because we can’t go to Moor Farm. We’ve had the weather to contend with too!
“It’s been a challenge but one where all the staff have got together, got round each other, the Academy staff have been brilliant in helping each other out, helping myself and Gary Bowyer to make sure that we can prepare the team for the challenge ahead the best we can.”
“It is a great opportunity for the players. We are really looking forward to it as staff to see how they perform on Saturday and hopefully they can put on a performance they are proud of.”
Lyons has labelled Saturday’s game as a platform for the players involved as the platform to showcase their abilities.
Four players from the club’s Academy have made their first-team bows recently, including 16-year-old Kaide Gordon, and featuring against Chorley could be the unexpected opportunity for some individuals to progress their careers.
He said: “We are saying to the players all the time that they have to train as if every day is your last training session and every game you get judged on. This is a great platform for them.
“Anything can happen and there are so many occasions – especially in the last few years – where players think they are out with it and then they go and train with the first-team, followed by their debuts.
“A prime example this season and in the month of December. Wayne gave given four debuts to players from the Academy which has been unbelievable with Kornell McDonald, Jack Stretton, Louie Watson and Kaide Gordon.”
Chorley are certainly not being underestimated by anyone in the Derby camp.
The Magpies ply their trade in National League North but have proved they are more than capable of performing at a higher level after defeating League 1 sides Wigan Athletic and Peterborough United in the previous rounds.
Facing Jamie Vermiglio’s side is certainly a different challenge to performing in Premier League 2 - Division 1 and Under-18 Premier League North, but it is one for the players to stand up to.
Lyons said: “Chorley are a very good team; they have proved that and they are on an unbelievable run.
“They have already made history getting to the Third Round of the FA Cup and beaten two League One teams – Wigan and Peterborough - with really good performances so we know it is going to be a big challenge.
“They are a very good team and we have to match their qualities. We have got to match their physicality, we have got to go there and win our duels, but on top of that we have got to play. We are looking forward to that challenge ahead.”