City's so solid crew are on-song - Rudd

David Cuffley Goalkeeper Declan Rudd believes his growing rapport with his back four could be the key to Norwich City Under-18s reaching the last 16 of the FA Youth Cup.

David Cuffley

Goalkeeper Declan Rudd believes his growing rapport with his back four could be the key to Norwich City Under-18s reaching the last 16 of the FA Youth Cup.

The young Canaries take on Stoke City in the fourth round at Carrow Road tomorrow (7pm), looking to extend their undefeated league and cup run to seven matches.

A sequence of five straight defeats in the autumn has been overturned to great effect and the current unbeaten run includes a 2-2 draw at Chelsea, a 2-1 win at Arsenal and last month's 1-0 third round home win over Wigan.

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Rudd, who will be 18 next week, said his improved understanding with his team-mates, with centre-halves Dario Dumic and David Stephens at the heart of the defence, had been a feature of City's improved results.

He said: “The two centre-backs are big, strong powerful boys, the two full-backs can play very well and battle very well. I think we're strong at the back.

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“We've gone quite a few games unbeaten and had a couple of clean sheets in that run as well, so it's brought us back five together.

“I feel at the beginning of the season, it wasn't quite the unit it should have been but after our good run, we're together. We'd do anything to help each other out on the pitch. I think it's just brought us as a team together brilliantly.

“Korey Smith and Tom Adeyemi are strong in centre midfield, the two wingers create chances for us, the strikers can get us goals. All over the pitch I think we're strong.

“This game couldn't have come round at a better time.”

Rudd, from Diss, signed a two-year professional contract with the Canaries in July. He missed last season's FA Youth Cup - City lost 6-1 at Sunderland in the third round - after having a knee operation, so this season represents his one chance to make headway in the knockout competition.

“Last year I didn't play because I was injured so I just want to cram as many games in as I can in the FA Youth Cup,” he said.

“We've been talking about it quite a lot, whereas last year I don't think the feeling was quite there. This year the lads are buzzing about, just want to play and get through and win as many games as possible.”

Rudd said his mental strength had improved this season, helped by his increasing involvement with Glenn Roeder's team on match days.

“I wasn't that mentally strong last season, but this season I'm stronger, I can deal with mistakes, deal with success better, so I feel like I'm more level-headed,” he said.

“It's been great being around match day. You get the feeling, it makes you want it more and makes you want to be part of the team.

“I'll just keep working and when the manager feels it's right he'll put me in.”

Stoke are expected to provide a tough physical challenge but Rudd believes City can stand up to it, and take inspiration from playing on the big stages.

“I think we can deal with it with the strength and size we've got in our team,” he said. “We've dealt with that in the league as well so I don't think it's going to be something new to us.

“It's a different game. The atmosphere playing at Carrow Road for a youth team game, having a crowd there, is different.”

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