With the season in the books, it’s time to take a look back at a whirlwind nine and a half months as another Youth and Reserve campaign has come to a finish. Over the coming days we’ll break down the year on both fronts, but first, it’s time to take a look inside the numbers with a statistical review.
Squad management is important at any level, but when working with young footballers who require regular playing time to develop their game, it becomes arguably even more paramount. With 42 players featuring at Reserve level in 2009/10, it could be argued that the club haven’t done as well as they could in this respect, but circumstance was often out of their control. Only sixteen league fixtures were scheduled and with injuries, first-team commitments, Under-18 needs and players coming and going from loan spells, Steve Holland rarely had a settled squad. To achieve a positive season with the youngest squad in the league – a tender nineteen – must go down as a plus in the books when all is said and done.
For Youth Team Manager Dermot Drummy, things were a bit more organised. A core squad of almost twenty players was a rather large one, one which was often reduced through injury but at the same time supplemented by a handful of schoolboys. Aided a little by the FA Youth Cup (and the extra eight games it brought), the academy staff deserve congratulations for ensuring the majority of the squad featured regularly throughout the season.
Fourteen players played in fifteen or more of the 35 fixtures, which might not seem a great deal, but it represents almost half the squad, and well over half of those who played for most of the season. Aziz Deen-Conteh led all Under-18s with a total of 32 appearances, which is some going considering he didn’t start a match until the start of October. Marko Mitrovic followed him with 29 appearances, with his 28 starts the most of any player.
The Swedish hitman was also the club’s top goalscorer, and by some way. He led the way with sixteen goals, more than triple any other total. He also set up four goals, which was more than anyone else except for the remarkable Gokhan Tore. Ten assists in seventeen outings meant that the Turkish Under-21 international was one of the most dangerous creative outlets in the entire league.
Also contributing in front of goal were Billy Knott and Bobby Devyne with five apiece, but Devyne lacked consistency, whilst Knott found a rich vein of form in October and November before leaving the academy. Reserve teamers Jacopo Sala and Daniel Philliskirk were a further goal back, using their experience at this level to their advantage. Philliskirk’s tally came in just five games, an indication that he is indeed far too good for that level of football.
Perhaps surprisingly, only four schoolboys made appearances, a number surely down on previous years. Daniel Mills Pappoe played the full season, with Todd Kane, Nathaniel Chalobah and briefly John Swift also playing their part. Kane and Mills Pappoe are set to become full-time scholars in the summer, whilst the other two are still a year out. Nonetheless, they will be key fixtures in the team next season.
In goal, Sam Walker kept a fantastic twelve clean sheets through 24 appearances, and in only leaking 21 ended with a record of less than a goal per game conceded. He was a consistently high performer all year and deserves the credit those numbers produce. When he was absent with a broken foot, Aldi Haxhia took the opportunity to put together the majority of his ten appearances, but failed to shut out a single opponent and averaged three goals against each time he played.
Injuries to Walker, Mills Pappoe, Lalkovic, Rodgers, Ince, Prosenik, Ashton and Phillip at one point or another meant that various players featured for cameo outings, but over the course of the season the team with the most appearances would have lined up as:
Walker, B.Clifford, Mills Pappoe, Strickland, Deen-Conteh, Saville, C.Clifford, Kaby, Lalkovic, Gokhan Tore, Mitrovic
With special mentions to Ben Sampayo and Josh McEachran, who had more appearances than some in that team, but not in preferred positions.
Things aren’t so clear cut up a level with the Reserves, a fact summed up by the joint leading scorer scoring his five goals in just six appearances. Daniel Sturridge was dominant when he turned out and struck up a good partnership with Fabio Borini, who scored the same number of goals but in twice the appearances.
Borini’s thirteen starts were good enough to lead all reserve teamers, followed by Nemanja Matic and Ben Gordon with eleven. Gordon would surely have taken the lead late in the season were it not for a loan spell at Tranmere Rovers. However, only Gael Kakuta, Conor Clifford and Nana Ofori-Twumasi featured in half of the league fixtures, with half a dozen others one game away.
Sala didn’t only impress for the Under-18s, as in his six Reserve outings he created a team-leading three goals, ahead of Clifford and Sturridge on two. Eight players created a goal each, a rather low tally, but reflective of a league both bereft of goalscoring and the opportunity to harness creative talent.
The reserve team is often used to rehabilitate first team players who have suffered injury and in 2009/10 Paulo Ferreira, Alex and Joe Cole all made appearances for this purpose. However, there was no more unlikely feature than Fitness Coach Chris Jones, who played for half an hour against Portsmouth at the end of the season with many players away in the Dallas Cup. The same night, schoolboy Reece Loudon made his own reserve bow before featuring for the youth team, another very rare event.
Rhys Taylor was the best of a clustered bunch of goalkeepers, playing eight times, and keeping a clean sheet in four of them. Just nine goals found their way past him in total, a better ration than Ross Turnbull, Jan Sebek or Sam Walker managed, although Sebek did manage to keep one shutout of his own.
Following Under-18 procedure above, the most regularly turned-out team under Steve Holland would appear to have been;
Taylor, Ahamed, Ofori-Twumasi, Strickland, Gordon, Bridcutt, C.Clifford, Matic, McEachran, Kakuta, Borini
If some of these numbers leave you a little muddled I apologise – it’s a lot of numbers from a rather large scope, but there’s certainly enough there to take on board and look at. In part two, we review the reserve team as a whole. And there’s certainly enough of them to review!