Well, the FA Youth Cup run is over, but it was fun while it lasted.
Naturally the focus is always on the first team, but a club like Wrexham desperately needs to keep producing young talent, both to maintain a flow of players for our squad and to create a revenue stream. It’s always poignant to see a young player leave us for bigger things as you wish them well but wonder what they might have been able to contribute to us if they’d stayed. The example of Bradley Reid is fresh in the mind, of course, but we have to cut out the emotion and accept reality: we’re not at the top of the food chain and need to sell to survive.
Ironically, in these days of short contracts and Bosman moves, we’re as likely to get a reasonable fee for a youth player as we are for an established first teamer as players sit on their contracts and wait until they’re enticingly cheap for prospective buyers. That’s why the work of Andy Davies at Colliers Park, despite the fact that his hands are tied financially by a shortfall in funding created by our relegation from the Football League, is so important. He and his staff do a remarkable job; they are the silent heroes of the club.
Watching Davies and Joey Jones’ side progress through the rounds it has been apparent that the opposition has become progressively stronger, and more has been revealed about the lads as their run has continued.
There’s a nice look to the crop of young lads coming through at the moment. Iwan Cartwright is full of energy and strikes the ball well from distance and set pieces, while Ross Weaver has the look of a midfield general of the future, comfortable in possession and solid in the tackle.
At the back Jonathan Smith likes getting forward from left back, Aaron Simpson is able to do the same from the right although he clearly also has the physique to slot in in the middle, while the central defenders Ross White and Jack Doran are a solid pair. Doran can play a pass out from the back, while White has developed the happy knack of becoming invisible from set pieces: for some reason sides seem reluctant to mark him and he capitalises with a stream of scoring headers! What a shame he missed a good headed chance from a corner a minute before Altrincham equalised in this match.
On the flanks Jack Davis is full of energy and strength, and is adept at breaking down the flanks and cutting inside to shoot from the right or crossing from the left while Jake Phillips, given a first start in the tournament, was quick and inventive. Matthew Hammonds’ developing performances in the competition have been a particular bonus: he started out on the wing and looked fairly lively but not always fully involved. Moving him to the centre of midfield seemed an odd idea to meat first, which just goes to show how little I know. He’s looked increasingly better in that position as the opposition has got tougher, and had a fine game at Moss Rose, capped by a fine finish.
It was interesting to see the defence tested for the first time: in the second half Altrincham stretched them a bit, but at least we got a chance to see John Hodgin show what he could do with a couple of fine saves. Unfortunately for us, Alty’s keeper did exactly the same at the other end, keeping his side in the game and therefore allowing them to snatch that late winner.
The main scorer in our FA Youth Cup run is the player who has perhaps caught the eye most obviously though. Danny Reynolds looks very useful, with dare I say it an air of a young Luis Suarez about him. Not that I’ve seen him take a bite out of any centre backs, but he has the rare ability to wriggle out of tight areas which should serve him well. He drops deep to link play well, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting into the danger area to finish moves off. The combination of an ability to play in the hole as a second striker and still get into the six yard box to finish his chances is a rare one.
Of course, it’s difficult to judge how a young player will develop. Some kick on, some don’t fulfil their promise. Often outside influences can alter their fate, but at least we have a staff at Colliers Park who know what they’re doing and will nurture their talent. A look back at the example of Shuan Pejic illustrates this. He made a very early breakthrough into the first team and looked a terrific prospect, but then seemed to go backwards and didn’t appear in the reckoning for Denis Smith’s side for nearly two years. Thankfully the excellent work of the youth coaches and sports scientists identified that his form had suffered as a result of a growth spurt and the club were patient. Eventually he made the breakthrough to the first team and was a regular when we were promoted to League One in 2003.
The young lads have done well. I look forward to seeing them continue to progress and, like Rob Evans, Steve Tomassen and Leon Clowes, add to Andy Morrell’s options.
Wrexham (4-2-3-1): Hodgin; Simpson, Doran, White, Smith; Hammonds, Weaver; Phillips, Cartwright, Davis (Harvey-Davies); Reynolds.
Man of the match: Aaron Simpson