We won the Youth Alliance League for the second year running but we ended up making hard work of it. To be fair to Steve Brown the Manager, I did say that if we didn’t win it this year after being Champions last season, would it be a failure ? So job well done ! For him and Keith Ryan, it was difficult coming to a new club, especially being Champions and taking on a different set of players, but they settled in quickly.
The U18’s went thirteen league games without defeat, losing only three all season out of nineteen. Amazingly, two defeats came towards the end when we were pushing for the title with a couple of other clubs catching us up and going for it. We then had to win at Brentford to clinch the title with one game to go. We won 3-2 but even in this game we fell behind and Chris Arthur got us out of trouble. Most teams that win things like to have a settled side, but at U18/U16 level it’s difficult. As usual, over forty players were used. Good prospect Angelo Balanta was taken for 1st team duties and both keepers, Reece Crowther and Chris Goodchild were subs. Romone Rose is another good prospect who went on loan to AFC Wimbledon and later returned to make his debut for the R’s 1st team.
The excellent Danny Maguire was out for a while with an injury as was Danny Davenport. Harry Smart only made one appearance as sub due to various problems. Josh Parker missed most of the season’s last games due to injury. Of course this does give Keith Ryan’s U16 players a good chance to move up, especially Antonio German who aged at just 15, scored thirteen league and Cup goals plus two more for the Reserves. German played nearly forty games last season at different levels ! He also scored one goal for the U16’s ! Although German with thirteen goals and Rose with fourteen were our top scorers, others like Morgan-Cummings with eight, Balanta seven and Parker also with seven, all chipped in.
Losing players for different reasons is highlighted by the fact that we used FIVE different keepers. That must be unusual for a title winning team. Many of the players I’ve mentioned so far are very good prospects, goalscorers, tricky, skilful and all that but one boy who goes about his business very well is central defender Josh Ford. He’s big, strong and very good on the ball. Next season he will move up into Reserve football along with most of the other good prospects. The U18 team ended up being the Reserve team last season but with a couple of experienced players to help them. I expect most to push on and press the 1st team as did Balanta last season. Not everyone can make it but you must aim for the top and see what happens.
Keith Ryan’s U16 team had a ‘steady’ season with seven wins and seven losses from twenty games. Keith also had to use over thirty players but as there is no league at this level results are not as vital. Losing German for the season to the U18 team meant that goals would be hard to come by. Danny Fernandez got around ten then he also moved up to U18 level at the end. Elliott Cox had a good season at right back, defending well and also getting forward. Michael Harriman is a ‘Rowlands type’ player who works hard and very skilful. When he starts to score goals from his wide midfield position he will be more complete. Max Ehmer is a footballing midfielder with lots of skill but sometimes he lets the game pass him by. All three should be okay if they move up to U18 level next season, along with Fernandez. Another very young boy, Frankie Sutherland who is only 14, played for the U18’s once last season. He’s a midfield player with good potential.
At Youth level, our future is bright. I hope now that the club is stronger with money matters we don’t overdo the spending on imports and forget our home grown players. Secondly, I would like us to be in a stronger youth league…the Academy. Its great to win the Alliance but it is not a good, strong league. The better teams we play against, the better we become. Let’s hope more boys follow Balanta and Rose into the 1st team and make those Saturday and Sunday mornings all worth it.