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    Young Guns Blog by John Jones.

    Lee Evans (Wolverhampton Wanderers on loan at Wigan Athletic)

    Considered to be a future senior Welsh international for a number of seasons, the prediction finally came to fruition recently when Lee made his bow as a substitute during the match against Panama. It came at a time later than anticipated by many who have monitored his progression in football over the years, as he has long shown the potential to a beneficial addition to the senior squad. His previous selections for senior squad duty have been intermittent, as a combination of injuries and dips in form have contributed to him missing club football matches during some periods. Loaned out to Wigan this season, this finds him a part of a successful team that at present is at the pinnacle of League One, impressive displays by Lee in some games helping the club hope for promotion success this time around as a reversal of the disappointment of last season's relegation. His parent club are also very satisfied with how the season has gone so far as they are also leaders of their division, the Championship. What lays ahead in club football for Lee will largely depend on how the Wolves management team will envision the composition of the team going forward, especially so, if they reach the Premier League. With considerable investment already made to upgrade the team this season, further funds will undoubtedly be available to bring high quality players to the club in the attempt to consolidate their membership of the elite league in English football. It may be that his form this season will produce an offer of a new contract, his present one expires in the coming summer. Lee has obviously proved to be adept at League One level as well as at times in Championship games with Wolves. He has also received plaudits when Wolves played against Premier League opposition in cup matches, so it is a possibility the association could continue. If not, there will almost certainly be plenty of interest in acquiring his services. Hopefully, Lee will be able to find a suitable means to enhance his career, he has time on his side and theoretically is yet to reach the peak of his football powers. The Wales senior side would certainly be benefitted if such a scenario unfolds.

    Ryan Hedges (Barnsley)
    It is with some surprise that I find myself writing about Ryan as a senior Welsh international player. I have no doubt that his appearance as a substitute against Panama was well deserved, it is just that having seen him play for the Wales U-21 team in September 2016, a senior cap is not something I anticipated happening within that timeframe. At that time, he was playing his club football in League Two, having been loaned out by his parent club Swansea where he had played in the U-23 team. He had other loan spells and had a good amount of experience in League One football where he had also performed well. As I now look back on the brief time I watched him in live play, I certainly saw his enthusiasm for the game as well as his willingness to work hard during a match. What I failed to recognize was how much of an asset this would be in propelling Ryan to even greater heights than he had reached at that time. The talent he possessed was not an issue, professional football contracts are not offered to those who are not quality players. What separates many players from their peers in the early years of their careers is the effort put forward in continually improving their game in order to succeed in the new challenges posed to them. The congratulatory acknowledgement Ryan has secured from me is a recognition of his undoubted dedication and determination. His transfer from Swansea to Barnsley posed a need for him to adapt to a higher level of football than he had previously experienced. He responded to the task with almost immediate effect, as he played his part in assisting his new club quite soon after joining them for the second half of last season. He has continued in that vein this season, becoming an increasingly important part of the Oakwell club's first team squad. Further recognition followed on from that, well done young man and wishing you good fortune in taking your career to even greater achievements.

    Tom Lawrence (Derby County)
    A player who is now constant member of the Wales senior squad and one of those most likely to be chosen in the starting eleven of the team whenever they play. But for untimely injuries, this situation may have developed even sooner than it did. His high level of ability has been recognized for quite some time as his progression through the development ranks at Old Trafford eventually secured him a first team appearance at the club. A transfer to Leicester City coincided with a very successful period for the club, but Tom could not manage a first team breakthrough as the squad there was riding high. A loan period with Ipswich last season was an opportunity for him to show that he was more than competent in performing at Championship level and a permanent move to Derby occurred at the start of this season. Though he is yet to replicate from the Rams fans, the high acclaim he received at Ipswich, it is surely just a matter of time before he does so. Anything close to resembling the quality goal he recently scored in the Welsh shirt would certainly provide a jubilant response. It is anticipated that Tom will become an increasingly important part of the Welsh team in the coming years, his experience will help guide those even younger than himself, as they establish their contribution to the side.

    Tom Lockyer (Bristol Rovers)
    Another debutant when playing the second half of the Panama match. Tom has been included in the senior squad this season after getting his first call up for the away Serbia tie in the summer. He acquitted himself well, though it must be said that the defence was not under a great deal of pressure during that time. Hopefully, there was an understanding of a valuable lesson not to relax from anything but maximum concentration as the defence conceded an equalizer with practically the last kick of the game. The senior cap is a deserved award for Tom who has progressed steadily since his introduction into the Bristol Rovers first team as he was completing the final weeks of his time as a youth team player with them. He was also one I saw live in the U-21 matches last year and his high ability in reading the game had me suspecting that I was witnessing a candidate for the senior international team, though I cannot claim knowing it would be this soon. When one takes into account that he has continued to improve in the meantime, now the captain of the Memorial Stadium team, then it is not that surprising for him to have reached the goal. What is more important from a Wales point of view is that he can develop his skills well enough to become comfortable when challenged by international opponents. How that may come about is probably reliant on playing competition higher than League One regularly. Though it is too soon in the season to be definitive, it is not an expectancy for Rovers to be challenging for promotion. In the short term, a transfer to a team in a higher league would therefore be a way of accomplishing it. This is very much a speculative observation on my part, Bristol Rovers would, I am sure, be reluctant to lose him, their ambition being for Tom to lead them to a successful promotion, resolving matters in that way.

    I will conclude at this point having discussed four players who have done well this season. Upon reaching the age where senior international representation was their only option going forward, 3 of them have now reached that lofty goal, joining Tom Lawrence who had done so previously. They all fall into the category of former young guns as per my definition of how I view the main emphasis of the weekly column. Once or twice a season, I like to give such players credit when deserved and having done so in lengthy fashion here could not include all that I originally had in mind. I will discuss those additional ones next time.

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    Posted: Wednesday 6th December 2017
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