Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Plenty in reserve

The benefits of a week off work are plentiful - in this case it allowed me to join 102 other hardy souls (or nutters, whichever you prefer) for our reserve game at Forest Green.
Our former manager, in his infinite wisdom, elected to pull us out of the reserve league, and since then he, and Mark Yates, have been wallowing around looking for the odd friendly game to get match action for the players not in the matchday squad, or to have a look at triallists.
But gladly we are now back in a six-team Combination League Southern Division, and started with a win at Forest Green last night.
Our team was a mix of those not in the 16 at the moment - the players suffering the most from the decision to cut the number of subs from seven to five - an idea I still am trying, without success, to comprehend.
The players in that bracket were Harry Hooman, Andy Gallinagh, Sido Jombati, Bags Graham, Theo Lewis and David Bird, and they were joined by some of our scholars, Matt Williams, Joe Turley and Jacob Morgan of the second years starting the game.
The other two starters were goalkeeper John Bateman, who also played in the earlier reserve game at Coventry, and Luke Benbow, a striker let go recently by the Glenn Hoddle Academy who came through Birmingham's ranks.
Forest Green's side was experienced - I recognised seven or eight of them from BSP action this season, and that is just the sort of test our players need.
It was also a chance, I suspect, for FGR and any other watching scouts to have a look at our fringe boys with the idea of a possible loan move - the likes of Bird, Gallinagh and Lewis especially.
The game itself started well for us, and Lewis scored after 12 minutes, responding well to score the rebound after Matt Bulman saved his header from a good cross by Graham.
Theo should have had another with a far post header which we all thought was in, and could not quite believe it had missed - even his dad Kenny was shocked at half-time...!
Gallinagh also missed with a presentable chance from a far post header almost on the line, and we could have been three up at the break.
But FGR came back into it towards the end of the half and Yan Klukowski scored a great equaliser on the hour, and we started to look a bit ragged before Graham struck the winner inside Bulman's near post with 17 minutes left.
Benbow could have had a goal - and probably deserved one for a lively display - and Lewis was denied by a good save from Bulman.
Player-wise, I thought Sido Jombati was the pick of our side, doing well defensively and giving us a different dimension coming forward and playing some decent balls through.
He looks a very good athlete and I am sure he will get a chance in the first team before the season is out, somewhere or other - he looks like he could play just about anywhere.
Hooman and Gallinagh worked well together and dealt comfortably with Robbie Matthews, an experienced customer at BSP level.
Hooman didn't lose many headers and continued his ever-growing reputation, while Gallers was his usual whole-hearted dependable self.
In midfield, Bird and Turley had a good battle with Wayne Turk and Chris Allen, with Bird's experience helping young Turley a lot, and he looks to be a useful prospect, so it will be interesting to see how he develops.
The same goes for Jacob Morgan, who started on the right, played a bit on the left and ended as the head player in the diamond formation we adopted during the second half.
He featured in pre-season a few times and along with Turley and Williams would seem to be the pick of the scholars we have.
Morgan has a bit of skill and strength in him, and took some good corners which with better finishing we could have profited from.
Williams, usually a centre-back, played at right back but had a bit of a calf injury at half-time so went off, with first-year scholar Michael Gonzalo coming on and doing very well, getting praise for his display afterwards from John Brough.
Graham was dangerous, more so in the first half than the second it has to be said, but got his goal, which is encouraging, as that would be useful to add to his repertoire.
I have said before that this is a big season for Theo Lewis, and he showed good awareness to get his goal, but did miss that other good chance.
He started up front and ended the game deeper alongside Bird in central midfield, and I think he is the one who needs a loan move to get competitive games more than any of the others.
Theo has not featured in a 16 this season, a backward step for him after he was a regular part of the squad last season, and the arrivals of players like Russ Penn and Luke Summerfield have affected him more than any others.
He started as a striker in the youth team, but I cannot see him playing here for the first team, and if he is a central midfielder he is fifth or sixth in line for a starting place.
Benbow, a 19-year-old who as James Brown quite rightly said is a bit of an Anderson lookalike, was lively, with good movement into the channels and good awareness of players around him.
He could have had a goal or two, and wasn't afraid to have a shot when things opened up for him, but I can't see him having a shot at a deal here but a game in our reserves puts him in the shop window for other clubs to spot him.
In conclusion, it was a good workout and I am sure Mark Yates, Neil Howarth and Broughy will already think the return to the reserve league is worth it.
As far as Saturday's first team thinking goes, Luke Summerfield was not risked for a game, so looks set to slot in for the banned Marlon Pack, I would think.
Junior Smikle was also given the night off, and I assume will be on the bench unless Yatesy wants to look at his wide-man options.
I don't think anyone really stuck their hands up to demand a place in the side to face Macclesfield, but there were some good displays to re-inforce to those with the first-team shirts that there are people waiting to replace them if they let their standards drop.