Youth Offers Some Hope

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

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It’s strange how things pan out, isn’t it? A fortnight ago the likes of Rob Evans and Bradley Reid had barely any pitch time between them, naturally enough as their focus was winning the youth league for Wrexham. Now they could be set to play in the play-offs for us!

Obviously, part of the reason for this is the misfortune of others. The injuries we’ve suffered in recent weeks take the biscuit, and the cruel blow dealt to Danny Wright last Tuesday was a real punch in the guts. Naturally, injuries have pushed the likes of Reid, Evans and Leon Clowes up the pecking order. But don’t underestimate the other reason why they might play a part in post-season. These youngsters have really shown what they’re made of lately.

Of course, the terrific success of the youth team throughout the course of the season, culminating in that league title, ought to have been a clue. Andy Davies and Joey Jones deserve enormous credit, not just for winning the trophy, but more importantly for bringing through an excitingly talented crop.

However, such collective success against their peers is no guarantee that individuals can be plucked from Colliers Park and thrust into the first team to positive effect. The step up the youngsters made against Cambridge, Kidderminster and Braintree was impressive.

I liked the way that none of them hid, I liked the way that each of them slotted into their roles smoothly, but most of all I liked the way that they learned from their mistakes.

Bradley Reid was bright on Saturday, quick and full of energy. He tended to run into trouble as he surged inside on the diagonal though, making me wonder whether he was finding that, while he might be able to pierce youth defences with such runs, doing so to gnarled old pros is a very different matter. On Tuesday, his movement was more varied, his end product much better. He’d managed to make a positive impression on the initial match and build on it three days later. Impressive.

Evans was terrific on Tuesday, and his passing, already tidy, was highly effective. In the sitting role, he gave Jay Harris the insurance he needed to try and impose himself higher up the pitch and moved the ball around with efficiency. He was also tigerish in the tackle, offering Braintree little respite if they managed to evade Harris’ efforts!

And as for Clowes, the improvement from last year is striking. I had my doubts about whether he’d be able to kick on and make it last season, especially after he struggled against Hinckley in the FA Trophy. He’s a different player now. As Andy Morrell said after the match, he’s a proper old fashioned centre half: he gets his head on the ball, and thumps it away when there’s danger.

Against Kidderminster he was caught a little high up the pitch for the decisive goal: on Tuesday he was impeccable.

One wish: I’d love to see these lads on a decent pitch as I suspect they’d really shine then. Wembley would do.

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