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    Young Guns update


    Young Guns by John Jones.
    As we move on from 2016 and the fantastic memories it provided the followers of Welsh football fortunes, the attention is increasingly focused on when the next occasion a football tournament may bring a feel-good factor that envelops the whole nation. Whilst the next opportunity for such does not occur until the World Cup finals in 2018, this intervening year of 2017 will be when it is defined whether the possibility is even a viable one. With the results of the matches already played in the qualification process showing the Wales team in somewhat of a difficult position with regard to securing a successful progression to those finals, the forthcoming games will become increasingly critical until qualification is either attained or denied. There will undoubtedly be much media attention devoted to the task at hand in the weeks and months ahead and so my comments will be intentionally brief and done so only to provide some relevance to the main objective of discussing the young guns.
        Although Wales gained a perceived upper hand as the top seed in the group, four of the teams in it could offer a self-justification that they would eventually be the one automatically qualified for the finals at the completion of the group stage. Though the seeding system may have suggested otherwise, I think that a fair assessment would be one that showed that there is in fact little to choose between the ability of all four. The league table at the moment confirms much of that sentiment, with Wales maybe guilty of a very small amount of under achievement. They are certainly not in the position they would hope to be in at this time and as a result will need to win a substantial number of their remaining games to end up on top of the heap in about 10 months or so. It is a very achievable goal but also one that now leaves little margin for error as they progress through the matches.
        The good news is that Wales do have a settled and experienced squad with many of the players exhibiting reasonably good form for most of the season so far. A question needing to be answered is how can the performance level of the team be maintained at or near the high of last summer as time moves along. It is my belief that other than one or two possible exceptions, it must happen through the introduction of players who fall into the category of young guns this season. Of course a very obvious answer, all teams need the infusion of younger players and hope that those incoming will be either equivalent or ideally better than a replaced candidate.
        Tom Lawerence is already a firmly entrenched member of the squad but worryingly he is the only representative from this younger set of players. Declan John and George Williams have been past members but would not seem to be in a position to contribute with their lack of regular first team football this season. Lee Evans and Louis Thompson could be considered the ones that have shown some possible claim, though the good form of early season has been interrupted by injuries and a return to regular first team football is needed to confirm their candidacy. Adam Henley is another that is enduring injury problems. Tom Lockyer is holding his own at League 1 level, but it is a big step from there to international football although it is one that he will hopefully move towards in the future. That leaves us with the two most likely ones to be strongly considered at the moment. It will come as little surprise to most that it is Ethan Ampadu and Ben Woodburn that I am proposing as the additions to the squad. Admittedly they are still at a tender age in terms of their football careers and it is very difficult decision for the Welsh management team to undertake. It is my belief, that although it may not seem so right now, their presence in the squad will be required sooner rather than later and the experience of being part of it for the next match is the way forward. 
        I have to acknowledge that it is very much an issue that will come under a good amount of scrutiny as their dual qualification status will create controversy whichever way the future unfolds. My hope that they will play a big part in the future of Welsh international football is equally matched by those who recognize their tremendous potential and will implore them to pledge their allegiance to the country of their birth. It is my hope that they will be allowed to  make their choice perhaps counselled by those whom they trust and respect. Unfortunately, they are an extremely coveted talent and so media comments will add enormous pressure upon them. Of course, I admit being guilty of adding to it with this piece. There will also be many who feel disappointed maybe even aggrieved no matter what the outcome is. I will leave it at that and wish them all the very best, no matter what.
        A move on to what possibly there is a greater interest in reading about. Tom Lawerence is very much a player in top form and is also adding regularly to his goal tally for the season. An interesting note is that some of those goals are ones that definitely make the highlight reel and be amongst the contenders for weekly or monthly accolades. A continuation of these attributes with the possibility of doing so when wearing the national shirt as well as his club one would be loudly cheered by Wales fans. It was good to see that Lee Evans made a return to the Wolves first team as they overcame Stoke in the 3rd round cup tie. After a lengthy spell on the sidelines he managed to also make a significant contribution with his display in a match that provided an unexpected result. The 3rd round cup tie was also an opportunity for Mark Harris to put on the first team shirt at Cardiff City for the first time. The fact that his debut appearance amounted to more than 25 minutes on the field by the conclusion of the game showed that it was regarded as more than just a token introduction. The manager must have believed that he could have provided a needed impact as the team struggled to an eventual defeat. A very large difference in possession statistics was also difficult circumstances to encounter but, by all accounts he did not disappoint and gave the fans some amount of hope for the future. With the club desperate to get themselves away from position they occupy at the lower end of the league table there will undoubtedly be transfer activity during the next couple of weeks. Hopefully there will still be some chances for Mark to remain as a viable candidate for further inclusion in the match-day squads. The weekend fixtures of the FA Cup was also when Ben Woodburn made his first starting assignment appearance in a Liverpool team. Alongside a number of those with whom he has played with in the club's U-23 team, what amounted to being the youngest average age first team Liverpool has ever fielded dominated the opposing League 2 side Plymouth but were unable to find that elusive winning goal. I watched a live broadcast of the match on my TV and Ben acquitted himself quite well with good contributions toward the team display. The result did mean that there were few special moments and maybe this sums up most players on show. I think that it is also fair to say that Ben easily merited his time on the field and an easy guess is one that I expect him to have another opportunity to express his ability in the replay. Though his build is slight as he has still some years of growth and muscle development to come, he was not at all intimidated by being in a game with stronger players a great deal more experienced in first team football than he. The Liverpool management team are rightly cautious in his exposure to these demands but are also likely to use every chance they have, to give him the necessary experience in tough situations. A much sterner challenge awaits him when being confronted with Premier League opposition but I believe it will probably be a case of him getting a taste of that type of scenario sooner rather than later.

    Posted: Wednesday 11th January 2017
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