Give the kids their chance
With the Blues' season all but over, football writer Derek Davis looks at whether manager Jim Magilton should stick with the same old team or give youth its chance.
With the Blues' season all but over, football writer Derek Davis looks at whether manager Jim Magilton should stick with the same old team or give youth its chance
MANCHESTER United bounced back to the top of the table thanks to a terrific last-gasp winner against Aston Villa.
But it was not Rooney, Tevez or any of the household names associated with the Red Devils who banged in the all-important goal but a little known 17-year-old called Federico Macheda.
Unless you subscribe to MUTV, or are an avid follower of the Premier Reserve League (North), there is a fair chance you will not know anything about the former Lazio youngster who joined the Old Trafford Academy nearly two years ago.
His biggest experience in football came eight days ago when he scored a hat-trick for United's reserves at an empty St James' Park against Newcastle United's second string in a 3-3 draw. Prior to that, he had enjoyed a few outings for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's team at Moss Lane, Altrincham, before crowds of around 500.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who has proved he does know what he is doing, said afterwards that it was about being adventurous and being prepared to gamble. Not for the first time, his faith in bringing players through has paid dividends.
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So, should Town boss Jim Magilton be adventurous and take a gamble instead of seeing out the season with the same set of players who have been mediocre over 41 games?
We already know a raft of young players, some highly vaunted in the past like Billy Clarke, Liam Trotter, Ed Upson and Jai Reason, won't be kept on.
Clarke, a left-footed attacking midfielder who is also comfortable up front, scored for League Two leaders Brentford on Saturday, Trotter is with Johnstone's Paint Trophy runners-up Scunthorpe United, while Cambridge United are so impressed with Reason they have offered him a permanent deal.
So who have Town got knocking on the door? Sadly, Jordan Rhodes is recovering from a fractured metatarsal and won't be back until pre-season training, while Dean Bowditch, who was surprisingly handed a one-year contract last summer, is unlikely to be afforded such a favour 12 months on - so there would be little point in playing him.
Reggie Lambe and Jack Ainsley have been offered professional contracts after showing their capabilities in the reserves this season and would relish being tested further.
Also bubbling under are strikers Connor Wickham and Ronan Murray, not yet 17 but mature enough to put the ball away on a regular basis whenever asked.
Not only would playing any of these four, probably not all at the same time, give them valuable experience and a taste of the bigger time but it would be a vital next step in their education.
It would enable the coaches to see how they handle the occasion, the game itself and its aftermath.
The players would see how much further they have to go, learn to handle whatever demons, such as nerves, they have within and give them a taste of the excitement and joy of a match-day experience at Championship level.
The flip side, of course, is if they crash and burn, or the team play so poorly they get a hiding. This could either crush their confidence or be said to be character building.
Another problem is that other managers may perceive playing youngsters constitutes a 'weakened' side in matches which may have a bearing on the battle for play-off places.
And, with East Anglian bragging rights at stake, will Magilton want to play anything other than his best possible team against Norwich City, who could still be seeking safety?
Town have a rich history of bringing players through the ranks. John Wark, George Burley, Kevin Beattie, are examples of a bygone era, while Darren Bent, Richard Wright and Kieron Dyer are more recent, with Owen Garvan, Danny Haynes and Shane Supple, bringing us up to date.
Magilton doesn't appear quite so willing. While Tommy Smith was handed a debut in the season-opener against Preston, he skipped out of the picture, and then a horrendous ankle injury ended any chance of further involvement this season, but he is one who could be given his head in the next campaign. Pim Balkestein was ready-made from Dutch side Heerenveen and no other youngster came close to breaking through, although Wickham was an unused sub on a seven-man bench in the FA Cup game against Chesterfield.
Town fans want to see 'their' young 'uns given a chance and, derby game apart, there is little else for them to get excited about for the rest of this campaign.