A crop of promising youth players will always get fans excited. Thoughts turn to the Busby Babes and Fergie’s Fledglings, and supporters start to ponder how far these wonder kids can take the club and what alliterative gems will describe them.
Some hot prospects are easy to spot: we’ve had Rob Evans and Bradley Reid come through this season and it was obvious that both of them have massive potential. But an interesting and unexpected feature of this season has been the fruition of youth prospects who enjoyed significantly less fanfare. If we haven’t set the division on fire this season, we’ve at least developed some players who look like they’ll be solid servants at this level.
An obvious place to start is Andy Coughlin. Wrexham Player commentator Ollie Williams has already blogged on his rise to prominence this season. The big keeper had made a speciality of looking impressive in pre-season, but his first team experience in 2012-13 suggested he might not be quite able to make the step up to the blood and thunder of the Skrill Premier. Summer matches against higher division sides who tried to pass their way through enabled him to show off his undoubted shot-stopping skills, as here was a keeper who’s good at standing up and has the added advantage when doing so of being absolutely enormous!
Skrill Premier sides presented a different sort of challenge though, and exposed an apparent weakness in the air as they hurled long stuff into the box. The fact that Andy Morrell leaped immediately into the loan market for Chris Maxwell once Joslain Mayebi was injured last season was a clear statement: he couldn’t throw Coughlin into the run-in. The fact that nobody demurred sent a pretty clear message too.
Yet this season, after one Mayebi error too many, Morrell did back the young keeper. His performances might not have been a pleasant surprise to the manager, who has been able to monitor his progress in training, of course, but it has been to the fans. He looks confident and positive, and crucially has not been error-prone. And last week he made his England C debut. Andy Coughlin, England’s Number One. It has a nice ring to it, but more importantly it cam’t do any harm to his continually rising confidence.
Another unexpected bonus has been Steve Tomassen. He undoubtedly benefitted from Morrell’s policy of loaning youngsters out to gain experience, and enjoyed real responsibility during his stint in the Welsh Premier last season.
His development was rewarded with a run at right back at the start of the season in which he did perfectly well in a defence which was shipping goals, but it was wise to draft in a more experienced player in that position once Mark Carrington became available. However, Tomassen has always stated that he prefers to play at centre back, and he has been pleasingly solid in that position. He doesn’t have the height or bulk you’d associate with a Conference centre back, but his reliability has meant Dave Artell could be given a rest once Danny Livesey came in, and his leading role in a clean sheet at Cambridge showed he can live at the sharp end of this division.
There was no fanfare accompanying either of these players at the start of the season, but unexpected success stories are often the most gratifying of all.