A season of youth, and a reason to remain optimistic1
April 17, 2013 by blake2108
I don’t want to jinx it, but I reckon for this season Birmingham City are safe from relegation. After last night’s 1-0 victory at Bristol City, a result which condemned home side to League One football next season, the club see themselves six points clear of the nPower Championship drop zone, and after a string of decent results, Lee Clark seems to have got this team, this young team going, and a number of younger players, many from the club’s academy have made a telling impact this season.
Seventeen year-old Koby Arthur, is the latest player to come through and make his first team debut for Birmingham City, doing so in the defeat to rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers on Easter Monday and although not involved last night, six other players aged 21 or younger were in the matchday squad.
Youth has been predominant this season, partly forced with injury. Against Burnley in December for example, no fewer than seven teenagers started for Blues, but in a tough campaign in which the club have spent most of it fighting the drop, Not to mention the goings on off field, the inclusion of so many younger players should give for a sense of optimism for the future.
In total, this season alone, 20, that’s TWENTY players aged 21 or younger have been named in at least one match day squad, with three quarters of them having come through the club’s academy/reserve setup. Three other under 21 players have received squad numbers but haven’t featured in a squad, incredible numbers for any club.
The likes of Jack Butland, Nathan Redmond, Ravel Morrison Mitch Hancox, and Callum Reilly have all played in at least fifteen games this season, and I’d argue both Will Packwood and West Ham United loanee Rob Hall would’ve done too if injury hadn’t denied them, so cruelly in Packwood’s case.
I don’t need to say much about Butland. The goalkeeper had made his full international debut, had played at the 2012 Olympics and been part of England’s European Championship squad before he had featured in a competitive fixture for Blues. He’s had a great season overall, made a few mistakes yes, especially early on, but he’s more than made amends with some outstanding saves to ensure results weren’t significantly worse. Unfortunately for Birmingham, Stoke City have already snapped him up at a bargain price and it’s a shame we won’t see him progress further between the sticks at St. Andrew’s.
Redmond is relatively experienced as far as the youngsters are concerned. Having made his Birmingham City debut almost three years ago the nineteen year old has clocked up over 75 games for the club already, and his second full season has been perhaps disappointing in comparison to the last, recent form however has been what Bluenoses have hoped for all season.
Ravel, as he’s named on his match shirt, like Hall came to the club on loan from West Ham, for the whole season in his case. The former Manchester United player has been in and out of favour with Clark this season. The midfielder has had an extended run in the starting eleven of late and when he has played he’s at times shown glimpses of quality that had many at United touting him as a future England star. There’s no doubt the experience has done him good, as he’s rarely been in the news for the wrong reasons at Birmingham, but as a loanee, his future most likely lies away from the club.
Both Hancox and Reilly are local boys, which makes it especially pleasing to see them playing for the club both grew up supporting. While Reilly made his first team debut in the FA Cup last season he and Hancox have contributed in the league this season, Mitch deputising for the injured David Murphy. While they’ve not played as much as some of the other youngsters, neither have disgraced themselves when they have played, and the experience they’re continuing to gain stands them in good stead for next season and beyond. Reilly has also broken into the international set up with the Republic of Ireland U21s which is credit to his performances during this campaign.
Whilst the futures of the loan players obviously lie elsewhere, many of the club’s senior players’ contracts are up in the summer, so I imagine the younger members of the squad will be expected to make a more meaningful contribution next season, be it those who have become a member of the first team this season or those in the Development Squad ready and waiting. Hopefully the club’s issues off the pitch are resolved so those players will still have senior players around to aid their development, but in a tough first season in charge for a young manager himself in Lee Clark, one where he’s seen a lot of criticism from supporters, he deserves a lot of credit for having trusted these young players and giving them first team opportunities. He has what looks like a bright generation of players at his disposal to help push Birmingham City back into the Premier League next season and I hope fans share the faith and optimism the boss has in this youthful team.
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