Following a 3-0 away victory over Fulham last time out, the youngsters travelled to Villa Park with justified confidence that they could come away with a positive result from a good overall performance – but it was ultimately not meant to be.
Still, we’ve played two games fewer than Monday’s victors and three less than league leaders Derby County, with the top six in Division 2’s league table currently looking like this:
Here, are three things we learned from the unfortunate 1-0 away defeat.
Nelson continues to shine
Throughout the game on Monday night, we were certainly unfortunate not to have scored, at the very least. Plenty of goalscoring chances were created, but none were converted – something that has the story of 2016 for our first-team crop of players. Reiss Nelson, widely seen as the most promising u18 attacking player in our ranks, played a pivotal role going forward.
Full of energy from the offset, he looked to create chances at will, but wasn’t afraid to be unselfish and take chances of his own. Unfortunately, he was unlucky not to find the net with any of his shots on goal, but you could clearly see confidence exuding from a player who has flourished at youth level when given the opportunity to do so in recent months.
A constant nuisance due to his dynamic movement, pulling defenders out in an attempt to try and track his run, he was tough to handle. He constantly had his body position open so he’d be able to receive the ball to feet, check his shoulder if there was a player closing him down, and deal with the situation effectively.
His finishing will continue to improve through his development, and even though he’s not a striker formally, there’s no reason he cannot be shifted into the position – where he has done well in the past.
Iwobi’s first-team emergence a motivator for Huddart
With the future of our first-team goalkeepers still up for debate, Ryan Huddart’s performance on Monday had me thinking.
Standing tall at 6ft5, the 19-year-old goalkeeper was forced into making a string of important saves on a number of occasions to thwart a Villa attack intent on punishing our defensive lapses in concentration. Although he could do nothing to stop Sellars’ effort, arrowing into the bottom corner, he was unlucky not to keep a clean sheet and certainly performed well on the evening.
Tonight, Alex Iwobi made his first Champions League start in our last-16 second leg clash against Barcelona. Ignoring the result, the talented Nigerian (also 19) handled himself well and was certainly impressive at the Nou Camp.
Rewind a few weeks back, to a particular video posted on our YouTube account. In this, Iwobi – via the club’s Snapchat – was taking supporters on a virtual tour around the training ground. A specific part of the video stuck in my head, and I haven’t forgotten it since.
At 1:14, Iwobi says “Be yourself, Ryan!”. How does he respond? “First-team now, can’t speak to him.”
They continue the dialogue for a few seconds, and although seen as a bit of friendly banter, as well as acknowledgement of Iwobi’s achievement placing himself amongst the first-team stars this term, there could be an added incentive for Huddart to push himself into the first-team category.
In spite of David Ospina’s excellent displays recently, the Colombian has made it clear that he’ll probably leave unless he gets regular minutes under his belt. Wojciech Szczesny’s future at the club is still uncertain, whilst Matt Macey is currently seen as the young understudy, who may well go out on-loan again next term to gain experience like he did previously at Accrington Stanley last year.
Huddart is two years Macey’s junior, and will definitely be looking at the possibility of breaking into the first-team picture next term. If he can sustain goalkeeping performances like the one on Monday, his presence will become harder to ignore.
Gnabry’s trying, just not there yet
It’s been a tough time for Serge Gnabry since he broke into the first-team, which seems a distant memory now considering the troublesome injuries he’s suffered since.
But after his loan spell at West Brom was cut short, the talented German has been training with the first-team regularly in an attempt to rebuild strength and conditioning, preparing him for what’s next in his career.
Plenty of clubs have been linked with a loan swoop for the 20-year-old, and it seems inevitable that he’ll get another opportunity to prove his worth away from the Emirates, where he needs to restore his confidence. He’s a quality player with plenty of potential still left to fulfill in his young age.
He completed the full 90 and although some questions would’ve circled around his fitness, he did well to impress, linking up with Donyell Malen and Reiss Nelson in the final third. His attacking intelligence was there to see, he spotted teammates’ runs and made instinctive passes to help his younger counterparts in a game that we should’ve won in truth, but the result won’t matter too much for Gnabry.
He played the full game on his official return, enjoyed a good individual showing, came away unscathed and we can only hope that’s a good sign for the future.