Arrested Development

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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Last Tuesday I watched Wrexham go out of the FA Youth Cup at Altrincham and it was a huge disappointment to see their run end. I’ve really been enjoying watching them work their way through the rounds and was a bit gutted when their – and my – adventure ended despite the fact that they held the lead for over half an hour of the tie.

Youth football is a funny thing in many ways. Ostensibly the same as the senior game, you can’t judge it in quite the same way because its purpose is totally different. The first team’s results are an end in themselves; if the youth team would be considered a success if it lost every match but produced three players who go on to play regularly for the seniors or sign for a bigger club and bring us revenue.

So when evaluating how they fare it’s important to resist the desire to sit in judgement: a teenage footballer is a work in progress. Some develop faster than others and it’s what the finished product is like which really matters.

Players will develop at different rates, and experiences like this cup run will contribute to the maturing of their talent. Watching them dispatch Hyde, Fylde and Selby at The Racecourse was both gratifying and great entertainment; travelling to a side of similar standard in Altrincham was an altogether different challenge.

We were the better side in the first half but found the second period more difficult, but although it was a pity we lost we saw players step up to the plate in a more pressured environment and show what they could do. In a way the greatest regret about the defeat was not the result itself but the fact that the players are denied another challenge at Walsall in the next round.

There were many eye-catching performances across the four games: Danny Reynolds has real ability up front and does a passable Luis Suarez impersonation as he wriggles out of tight spots, alongside Jack Davis who has thrust and speed; Iwan Cartwright and Ross Weaver have authority in midfield as Jake Doran and Ross White do at the back, while the full backs Aaron Simpson and Jonathan Smith are a nice contrast, one robust, the other swift on the overlap.

But Tuesday’s challenge brought something extra out of some of the players I didn’t see as the spine of the team previously. John Hodgin’s superb performance in goal was interesting for me because he’d not had anything to do previously, while Jake Phillips, son of Waynne, had been a substitute previously and it was good to see his creativity once given a start. It was perhaps Matthew Hammonds who most impressed though, because he’d seemed a more peripheral figure in earlier, easier games but stood up to be counted in a tough challenge.

I enjoyed watching those lads enormously, and great credit should go to Joey Jones and Andy Davies for their work with them. I look forward to watching them again soon, in the first team!

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