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Young guns blog

 

Young Guns Blog by John Jones.

It is that time once more for me to try and provide some enjoyable reading material by producing the weekly young gun updates. It is done of course to coincide with an approaching new season of league competition as teams are in the preparation stage for what lays ahead. Though the intent of the words written is to look toward the future and give a possible slight indication of who may be the candidates to supplement future Wales senior international squads, there are also times for reflection. This week is such an instance as I look back at what transpired since my last offering.

The culmination of the domestic season and its associated triumphs, disappointments and reliefs signaled the end of competitive action for a majority of players, but not so for those selected for international duty. This was the case for two groups of Welsh players as the senior squad prepared for and then played the World Cup qualification match against Serbia and the U-20 squad competed in the Toulon tournament. The drawn result in Belgrade can be viewed as a satisfactory one and the performance of the team was very acceptable. How the Group D table will look at the completion of the qualifying is very much open to debate with I am sure some amount of confidence existing in each of the 4 main contender's camps that they can progress to the finals. It is a very evenly balanced group with the many drawn results thus far confirming the case for such an argument. A 4 point gap between the top 2 and Wales and Austria in 3rd and 4th respectively has to be conceded as a unfavorable situation leaving no margin for error for either to have a realistic chance of vaulting into a position of keeping their hopes alive. We will have to hope that the Wales team is able to "grab the bull by its horns" as it were and produce very positive results in the 4 matches in the autumn.

Moving on to more relevant discussion in terms of my obligation in concentrating on providing updates with regard to the young guns, it pertinent to give an opinion on what was achieved by the U-20 squad that travelled to France. There can be little doubt that the raised profile of Welsh football, a consequence of what occurred in the same region in 2016 had much to do with the invitation extended to participate in the Toulon tournament. It was therefore with some importance that this younger group of players showed that Wales teams belonged in such an environment and this they duly obliged with competent display of their talents. Though progression out of the group stage was foiled, the satisfaction of remaining unbeaten for the 3 games that they played was somewhat of a consolation. I missed their first match against the highly rated French team, regarded by some as pre-tournament favorites but who in fact were inferior in points gained to the Welsh team. According to what I can gather, this was the best performance by Wales as the game ended in a deserved goalless draw. I was able to watch the next 2 games as they beat Bahrain and drew with Ivory Coast. A good part of the credit for the unbeaten record achieved has to be awarded to Luke Pilling who provided the team with an excellent goalkeeping display to thwart the opposition in the 2 games I saw. Apparently, he did likewise in the first match although seemingly his French counterpart had to be equally as adept in foiling Welsh attempts. From what I saw, it was fitting the he was selected as the best goalkeeper of the tournament and many congratulations to him in gaining that accolade. Luke made his first team debut for parent club Tranmere Rovers near the end of the season, having gained other first team experience whilst previously on loan in non-league football. He was part of the Wales squads at both schoolboy and U-17 level but has not been in the spotlight in his full time professional career. This is quite likely to change if he continues to pull off stunning saves in similar fashion to how he performed in France and it took 2 opportunist strikes from Ivory Coast players to foil his goal-less streak in the tournament. George Thomas joined Luke in making it a pair of Welsh players selected to the team of the tournament honours and so it is a likewise congratulatory mention for him. He certainly caught the eye with skill and awareness in putting Wales ahead in their final match, also showing calmness in slotting in an equalizing goal in the last minute of added time to conclude the Welsh participation. It has been an eventful last few months for him as he established his place in the Coventry City team, helping them have a silver lining on what has been a season of predominantly dark clouds. A good technique was exhibited as he scored for them at Wembley and provided a margin that gave the club an EFL Trophy final victory to bring some cheer for their beleaguered fans. Having watched 2 of the games, I am guardedly optimistic that the group as a whole showed plenty of promise that the senior squad can be supplemented by some of these young men in the future. Undoubtedly improvements need to be achieved by all of them if they are to make an impact at senior international level, but they are still relatively young and should have enough motivation and dedication to enhance their skills to the highest level possible in order for them to have a successful career. In my opinion, they already have the talent necessary, what is a must to be possessed is a determination to hone the skills in place to a greater precision. One facet of play that was occasionally disappointing was passing and this can certainly be improved with meaningful practice. Admittedly, I am judging them against a very high level of performance, but this is what it takes for them to achieve their ambition. Without belaboring a point and taking criticism to ridiculous extremes, I will not comment further on individuals excepting a couple of pleasant instances. I think it reflects well on the entire group, including staff members that the spirit of competitiveness was maintained throughout. There is no better example than that of captain Joe Rodon chasing what could have easily been regarded as a lost cause when pressuring the Ivory Coast goalkeeper in the waning moments of the match. This resulted in a poor hurried clearance with Wales taking advantage of the situation, calmly creating the chance converted into the equalizer. Chris Mepham was very much a surprising new name for me when seen in the squad as a late replacement. His performance was such that he has undoubtedly enhanced his reputation and will be a strong contender for inclusion in the U-21 squad for the forthcoming qualifying campaign. I would expect that there will be further mentions of him in future young guns during the season.

Summer is that time of year when the fairer weather normally associated with this calendar period tends to produce some greater amount of optimism for many of us humans. The results gained by the Welsh teams a few weeks ago should not have lessened that feeling for most of their fans and it is now a case of eagerly awaiting what is to follow. Participation of a Wales team in the 2018 World Cup finals is balanced on a knife edge and there will surely be an amazing fan reaction if achieved. The U-21 team will be starting its qualifying campaign early in the coming season. The squad will largely be composed of those who appeared in Toulon with additional competition for places coming from the '96 and 2000 birth year groups, deemed ineligible for the U-20's. Although I believe that there is sufficient talent to compose a very competitive U-21 team, it will be an extremely difficult task to qualify for the finals, a successful outcome to the proceedings in around 16 or 17 months would be worthy of much celebration. They have some challenging games to face, probably none more so than their first 2 ties in September when they travel to Switzerland and Portugal in quick succession.

I do believe that it is time for me to draw to a close, ending another lengthy edition and hopefully avoiding an element of boredom during reading it. For the first couple of forthcoming issues of weekly updates I will comment on the young guns that I expect to be most prominent in the coming season.

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Posted: Monday 24th July 2017
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