Thursday 1 November 2012

CTFC - the next generation

Over the past few days, I have had the chance to watch the CTFC under-18 side play twice - and on the evidence of the two matches our future is in good hands.
One of their number, Joe Hanks, made his first-team debut against Exeter last Saturday, by my reckoning the 17th 'home-grown' player to represent us in the Football League.
He was also the 180th player to don the red/ruby in those games since August 1999, so 17 home grown players in that number is almost one in 10.
But it must be said that the majority of them have started less than 10 games - only the Duff brothers, Dave Bird and Andy Gallinagh started more than 100 games, and behind them, Theo Lewis started 18 times.
After that, Adam Connolly, Michael Jackson, Gareth Hopkins, Marley Watkins, Kyle Haynes, Michael Wylde, Josh Emery, Jake Lee, Will Puddy, Jack Durrant and Luke Corbett made sporadic appearances down the years.
Others, notably Jamie Edge and Jamie Price, were snapped up by bigger clubs, and only recently brothers Courtney and Tyrone Duffus went to Everton.
But we have never managed to do a Crewe, and unearth a Nick Powell-type player - but the new Football League academy rules mean that sort of transfer may not happen again, and clubs like us may end up being short-changed if some of our youngsters are prised away.
In recent years, our managers have had different approaches to the youth set-up - some have embraced it and others largely ignored it, but with Joe Hanks being given a chance Mark Yates is definitely in the 'former' category.
A notable thing for me from the two games I saw is that Russ Milton's under-18s mirror the formation being used in the first team - 4-2-3-1 - and he also champions the same style of neat, passing football that the first team look to employ, so if these lads do progress it might smooth the transformation somewhat.
Academy manager Milton fully understands the ethos of the club, as does his head of coaching, some bloke called Jamie Victory. I think he also played a bit in the red and white.
We also have Keith Knight and Tommy Callinan coaching the under-16s, so there is some CTFC history entrenched in the system at the top echelons.
Knighty was there at Seasons joining me in freezing half to death last Friday afternoon while watching the League Cup game with Oxford, which was handy as he was able to mark my card about one or two of the players on show. Neil Howarth was also watching the game.
Hanks didn't play as he was 24 hours from his Exeter debut, and the side were edged out 1-0 in a tight game.
It was decided by a shot which slipped through goalkeeper Harvey Rivers' hands and was adjudged to have crossed the line.
As goal-line technology has not reached Seasons,  the assistant referee gave it.
Our lads had chances, and were helped by Oxford going down to 10 men, but couldn't get back on terms.
Four days later, it was the under-18s' big day - the start of the FA Youth Cup, and their chance to play at Whaddon Road, against Maidenhead in the first round proper.
Looking on their website pre-match, Maidenhead were unbeaten for 10 months, had conceded two goals this season, and beat Forest Green in the previous round.
Impressive - but our lads were 5-0 up at half-time, and despite Hanks missing a penalty, racked up an 8-0 win, playing some great football and doing a ruthless job on their opponents.
Of the starting 11 on show, only four - Hanks, goalkeeper Dale Reaney, defenders Keiran Thomas and Michael Gonzalo, are second year scholars, and so will learn their fate this summer.
The other seven, hat-trick heroes Bobbie Dale and Harry Williams, defenders Elliot Keightley and Spencer Hamilton, midfielder Adam Powell and flying wingers James Bowen and Zack Kotwica still have another year to progress and impress.
There were a number of scouts there - I was told that one had come to specifically watch one of our players, and some big clubs were represented, and our lads will definitely have impressed them.
Goalkeeper Reaney did not have much to do - one low down save and a late tip-round the post, and aside from conceding the goal against Oxford, Rivers looked a capable young keeper.
Full-backs Thomas and Keightley were both able to get forward in both games and did their defensive duties adequately.
Thomas (Pitbull to his mates... and boy, does he like a tackle) also found time to finish off a great move with a good finish for our fourth goal against Maidenhead.
He got an injury against Oxford and came off at half-time, his replacement Callum Marshall having a good second half, and also doing well as a sub against Maidnhead.
The centre-backs Hamilton and Gonzalo both looked comfortable with the ball at their feet, and weren't afraid to bring it out of defence rather than launch it, although both did play some nice cross-field balls in both games I saw.
Gonzalo also moved into midfield against Oxford and looked comfortable there as well, and, as the taller of the two, Hamilton did well in the air
Powell is a tall midfield player, must be 6ft 2 or so I would guess, and he had two good games, while Hanks was impressive against Maidenhead (we will forgive the missed penalty).
Harry Williams was my man of the match against Maidenhead, playing in the role behind striker Dale. He took his goals well, set up another and won the penalty which Hanks missed.
Maidenhead never got to grips with him at all, and he also did well against Oxford, where he played in the deeper role alongside Powell in Hanks' absence.
In both games I saw possibly the most impressive thing of all was our wide play, with Bowen and Kotwica.
Both looked very direct, tricky players, not afraid to take players on, and - as is key with wingers - also able to get quality crosses in.
In the first half against Maidenhead, Kotwica was virtually unplayable, twisting the poor left-back in knots before he went off injured. He was quieter after the break - but Bowen repeated the dose on the other flank.
Both gave good support to the lone striker - who was Dale against Maidenhead and Lewis Morana, a taller target man once on Exeter's books, against Oxford.
Morana battled away against two strong Oxford centre-backs with Dale coming on later and then starting against Maidenhead.
He linked well with Bowen, Kotwica and Harry Williams, and took his three goals well, showing a good poachers' instinct to seize on rebounds and take half-chances.
Against Oxford, Ed Williams (who scored a cracker in our pre-season game at Bishop's Cleeve) started behind the front man, and he replaced namesake Harry late on against Maidenhead and took up where he had left off, buzzing around, finding space and causing problems.
They now face AFC Wimbledon away in round two after this win, which shows that we might have some real promise for the future in our youth system.

For more information on our youth system, go to

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