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    Young Guns Blog by John Jones.

    Daniel James (Swansea City)
    I have tended to be somewhat critical of clubs that do not find a way for young players to be incorporated into first team plans, Swansea being one of those I have made such remarks about in the past. It is undoubtedly a difficult situation to assess, players have to be deserving an opportunity as well as having the confidence of management that they can perform as well as the more experienced options available. Added to this is that my agenda is for young Welsh players to progress in a way that will eventually benefit the national team, making my opinion quite heavily biased. I therefore congratulate both Daniel and Swansea as a result of his first team debut in the FA Cup replay against Notts County. As I was luckily able to witness on a TV broadcast of the match it was an ideal situation for him to be introduced as a substitute. With the team in full control of the game through some astute play and clinical finishing by the time of his introduction, it reduced any extra pressure that may have been imposed on him. Much to Danielís credit, he immediately contributed when introduced, making himself available to team mates with good positioning and moving the ball confidently when receiving it. Not only did he make that important first senior appearance, he also scored his first goal as well, doing so with aplomb as he took advantage of what was only a half chance by showing great technique in dispatching it beyond the goalkeepers reach. Based on how he had seemingly progressed last season, it was a scenario that had been anticipated. Getting to it proved far from being the progression many had expected, a short, unsuccessful and aborted loan arrangement with Shrewsbury was followed by having to deal with injury concerns upon his return to the Liberty Stadium, seemingly putting his career on the back foot and possibly denting his confidence. It is again much to his credit that he has overcome these setbacks, with his performance giving the Swansea management reason to believe that he is capable of positive contribution to first team play should he be required. How the remainder of the season develops for Daniel will be a case of many factors, Swansea gaining enough points to avoid relegation being probably the biggest issue. Injuries and team needs will be other important ones. Getting involved in Premier League play would certainly be a very big test for Daniel, he has shown not only that he is talented but that he also has character with his dedication and determination to recover from adversity and provide a confidence to the team management that he will endeavour to make the most of any chance given to him.

    Chris Mepham (Brentford)
    When I last made mention of Chris, my timing was rather poor. A statement that he was making enough of an impression at the club to be was considered as a very capable defensive replacement should it be necessary. As it happened, in the few days between my writing and it being available for reading, an injury situation necessitated Chrisís inclusion in the first team for a couple of games. Performances in those matches gained enough praise that he has remained a first team selection since that time and doing so well that the club received enquiries during the January transfer window if they were willing to consider a transfer bid for him. It was not considered sufficient for Brentford to accept the proposal and so he remains a Championship player rather than possibly be in competition for playing time in Premier League games. Chris is, of course, a vey important part of the Wales U-21 team but senior squad selection could also be a possibility if he can continue the good form he is presently exhibiting. Chris was missing from the matchday squad for Brentfordís weekend game due to an illness, hopefully he can make a quick recovery and soon be back in first team contention and add to the experience he has already gathered.

    Rhys Norrington-Davies (Sheffield United)
    Rhys has certainly been catching the attention of management at the club with his good performances for their U-23 side making them believe that he is getting ever closer to first team consideration. There was in fact some amount of speculation that he may have been included in the squad for the FA Cup 4th round tie a couple of weeks ago. That situation did not materialize and so it remains to be seen what may be the next steps in their plans for him. A loan period that will give him first team experience could be an option explored or possibly an involvement with the Blades first team later in the season may develop. Whatever may happen, it does seem as though Rhys will eventually be pushing hard for a place in the first team. Other good news from Bramall Lane concerns David Brooks. Quite a long absence through illness has finally come to an end as he has started playing for the U-23 team to build up his match fitness. If all goes well, he will return to first team action in the near future.

    Jack Vale (Blackburn Rovers)
    The Blackburn U-18 team have progressed into the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup and Jack has been an integral part of the team as they have moved to this stage. A hattrick by Jack during their success in the 5th round was a big contribution to an emphatic 5-1 victory. In his first season as a scholar with the club, Jack has not only played at U-18 level but also been included in the U-23 matchday squad on occasion, indicating that he is making faster than expected development in his skills for someone so young. Though the Blackburn first team is now competing at League 1 level, their intermediate teams are still in the Premier League competitive divisions and so the opponents they play are full of highly talented players. Jack was a part of the TNS academy before his move to Lancashire and so is a credit to the Welsh Premier League in their development schemes. Although there is always great uncertainty in how the career path of any football player develops, even more so when young and trying to establish themselves, Jack does seem to have done enough up this point that he is certainly in the category of one who may become increasingly important in the future of Welsh national teams.

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    Posted: Wednesday 14th February 2018
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