Sunday 17 January 2016


THERE was a lot of conjecture in the run-up to Saturday's game at Oxford City regarding how seriously we should be taking the game.
It was mixed - there were those who couldn't really have cared less about the result, and were quite happy for us to get beaten.
They are the ones for whom the league is everything - we've got to go up, no distractions.
Then there were those who would like a trip to Wembley, want us to do the double, keep up the winning mentality and momentum etc etc.
Personally, I just see the Trophy as a bonus, if we do well in it, then fine, if we don't then I'm not going to cry over any spilt milk.
So I arrived at Oxford with an open mind, not minding whether we won or not, but came away feeling proud of the way our young team kept going and got another crack at it.
Gary Johnson's team selection was fascinating. I was expecting some young players to be given a run out, but not as many as we eventually got to see - ie all of our second year scholars, and a return from a long-term injury for Bobbie Dale.
He said that he simply could not risk any of his more 'senior' players, bar Jack Barthram who needed 90 minutes after his recent injury, and wide men James Dayton and Ryan Jennings, neither of whom did anything to convince me they deserve longer-term deals.
I had expected Asa Hall to get a game but Gary opted to go all out with the younger lads.
Twitter during the game was good fun as well. When we were 1-0 and 2-1 down, the 'league is everything' fans were practically celebrating, then reaching for the razor blades when we got our equalisers, but that was unfair on the young lads out there, who are playing for their careers.
Nobody was going to tell them to go out there and lose. They had a chance to impress Gary and Russ Milton and show that they might have a chance of making a career at the club.
Basically, it amounted to an unexpected 90-minute trial for them - even more so after Gary was unhappy with their performance in the Youth Cup defeat at Leicester.
Not many of the second years will have  faced a proper 'men's' team - although Niall Rowe and Lewis Thompson were on loan at Cinderford - and I thought by and large that they stood up to it well.
Right-back Jordan Lymn showed up well in the Youth Cup games I saw and did well again, while Niall Rowe won some good headers and scored an absolutely cracking goal.
In midfield Sam Mendes and James McCarthy kept going well and the latter delivered some decent set-pieces, while up front Thompson worked hard - it was just a shame he couldn't take that early chance which he rolled past the post.
Then from the bench we saw the massive Matt Bower, who won some good headers after he came on, Alex Dinsmore up front who, like Thompson, worked hard, and Karnell Chambers, who set up the second equaliser with a turn, run and cross which put the more senior wingers to shame.
They all played their part - and Gary might have seen something in a few of them, but I'm not going to say any of them definitely will or won't make it on the evidence of that 90 minutes on a bumpy pitch.
All I will say is that is good to see a manager willing to trust them and finally give young players a chance after certain previous managers didn't bother with them and have (in my view) let some talent criminally go to waste.
I suspect that Cameron Pring would have played as well but the BTEC graduate joined Bristol City on an 18-month pro-deal. He looked a good player in the Youth Cup games and it's a shame we couldn't keep him.
We can't compete that offer unfortunately - in our position we can't go around offering young players contracts until we know where are going to be next season, so good luck to him.
Luke Thomas is another who would certainly have played, but his move to Derby has ended that and will also show these lads what can be achieved, so good luck to him as well - hope he makes it and earns us more money. It's been a good week for our academy all in all.
The rest of the side was more 'senior' - Calum Kitscha in goal had no chance with Oxford's two goals and made one fantastic save, Cian Harries looked fine in his 45 minutes and Barthram had a decent game out of position at left-back.
Wide men Dayton and Jennings were hugely disappointing. This was a real chance for them, especially Dayton, whose deal is up after the Kidderminster game.
I have to say I've not seen anything in his time here which convinces me that he is worth a new deal, especially with our priority being to find an experienced defender. If Gary thinks he does he need a winger I think he can find better out there.
Jennings has had a few starts and flitted in and out of games but not really affected games. His loan is up at the end of the month and at the moment I am erring on the side of letting Wigan have him back.
Dale is the only one of the crop of youth graduates given deals by Mark Yates sill awaiting a decision on whether his contract will be renewed after this summer.
Like his pals Harry Williams, James Bowen, Joe Hanks and Zack Kotwica, I feel Dale has been extremely hard done by under previous managers who haven't given him an opportunity. He has always been a goalscorer, evidenced by his pre-season strike against Cardiff.
He has just come back from a long-term injury after scoring goals for Farnborough at the start of the season. After that, Dale will be happy to got through 90 minutes and put a good chance wide in the first half after a good solo run.
He was also given credit for the second equaliser after the game, but I'm not convinced - it was an own goal in my view.
A replay was meant to cause the postponement of the Kidderminster league game on Tuesday, until a little bit of fixture jiggery-pokery means we play both games on successive days.
So it will be an interesting week, and we are likely to get a look at just about every eligible player the club has at their disposal in these games - a rare opportunity.
Starting with the Kidderminster game, right back will be a blurry spot as Gary must decide whether to bring Barthram back in or to keep James Rowe there after he did well enough in the role at Boreham Wood.
The choice will of course be determined in part by how well Barthram came through Saturday's game and if there is any reaction after his injury.
Then up front Gary has a decision, revolving around whether he gives Dan Holman a first start. He was carrying an injury when he signed, but has been training and I assume he is fit.
The choice would probably come down to Holman or Billy Waters - but Gary could easily play them both, either side of Danny Wright in a 4-3-3, and leave Jennings out with Kyle Storer, Jack Munns and Harry Pell in midfield.
Alternatively, he could play a 4-4-2 with Waters or Jennings playing wide right and Holman paired with Wright, or Holman on the bench and Waters up front with Jennings wide right - this last one being the least likely in my view.
So a likely team could be: Phillips, Rowe/Barthram, Harries, Parslow, McLennan, Storer, Pell, Munns, Wright and two of Jennings, Holman and Waters, with a bench something like Kitscha, Hall, J Rowe/Barthram, Dayton and the odd one out from Jennings, Holman or Waters.
On Wednesday we can of course assume that none of the 11 starters will play a part, but the subs might, along with the lads who played at Oxford.
That would mean a squad of Kitscha, Lymn, Bower, N Rowe, McCarthy, Mendes, Dale, Thompson, Dinsmore, Chambers, Omari Sterling-James and the youth team keeper Bojan Tetek and I am assuming Tuesday's subs- remembering Holman is ineligible.
Left-back is a slight riddle with Barthram having played there on Saturday, but if he plays on Tuesday he won't play again on Wednesday, so there's a decision to make for Gary.
It promises to be a fascinating week. Tuesday is of course the more important of the two games and after Forest Green won on Saturday, victory against the league's bottom side is pretty imperative.
It is the priority, and Wednesday is a bonus game - but it's another chance for these young lads to prove they deserve a career with the club beyond this summer. So while some fans may not view it as important, these young lads certainly do.

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