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Under-21s

Management duo relishing Reds test

Shaun Cooper and Mark Molesley on the touchline at Horndean FC.

AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Former AFC Bournemouth players Shaun Cooper and Mark Molesley are relishing their roles of developing the club’s talented youngsters.

The pair – both heroes of the Cherries’ Greatest Escape in 2009 – have been busy preparing the under-21s for their eagerly-awaited Premier League Cup clash with Liverpool on Sunday.

And with progression to the last 16 already assured, the Cherries will now be hoping to top their group by triumphing over the Reds in front of a bumper crowd at Vitality Stadium (1pm kick-off).

Cooper, who played 240 games during a seven-year stay with the Cherries, took charge of the under-21s in October following Carl Fletcher’s appointment as loan player manager.

He told afcb.co.uk: “The objective setting out was to try to win the group and, hopefully, get a home fixture in the next round.

“Liverpool are a good team. We drew with them in December and I thought it was a deserved point. We’re expecting another tough test.

“Ultimately, the lads are striving to play in the Premier League so this is a good opportunity for them to show they can handle the pressure of competitive fixtures against quality opposition.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact we’re developing them as players and people so these experiences will definitely stand them in good stead.”

Cooper, a skilful defender and midfielder, had spells with Crawley and Portsmouth before ending his playing days in non-league with Torquay, Sutton and Poole.

Asked how he was settling in to his role, he said: “I’m enjoying it, that’s for sure. In terms of settling in, that was easy because I know Mark well and knew Phil (Keehne, under-21 head of sports science) from previously.

“We have a good team and it’s such a good environment. You go in every day with your eyes and ears open and learn from the experiences of everyone.

“I was told the longer I’d been away from playing, the more I would miss it and that has certainly rung true. But this is a close second.

“Playing was what we all wanted to do as kids and I certainly enjoyed it, especially here. But those days are long gone now. I occasionally join in with training and show everyone how stiff I am!”

Molesley, who had a spell as interim under-21 boss, combines his role as Cooper’s assistant with managing Weymouth in Southern Premier League South.

“It’s a privilege to be able to do both jobs,” said Molesley, who made 29 appearances and scored four goals during the Greatest Escape season.

“I am learning my trade here and then have to stand on my own two feet when I go to Weymouth and put into practice all the good habits I’m picking up here.

“It’s been great for my experience and I’m certainly enjoying it. When you stop playing, the key thing is to keep yourself busy, find something you enjoy and always be hungry to learn, which I am.”

Previewing the Liverpool game, Molesley added: “It’s another great game for us. These Premier League Cup games are good for the lads because they get the chance to pit themselves against higher category academies.

“It will be a fantastic experience for the lads. The beauty of this competition is that they can play in front of a crowd, on a lovely pitch and against top-quality opposition so it’s one we’re certainly looking forward to.”

  • Hampshire Senior Cup semi-final draw: Sholing or AFC Bournemouth v Havant & Waterlooville, Basingstoke Town v Southampton.

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