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    Young Guns Blog by John Jones.

    As the weeks of 2019 move along and we have now arrived at the month of March, it will be no surprise to sense an increased anticipation amongst the football fans who follow the fortunes of the Wales teams. After a break of some months over the winter, international football will be back on the calendar of events in a couple of weeks or so. The focus of interest will almost certainly be directed toward the senior national team as they begin the qualification process for the 2020 Euro's, but they are not the only squad who will be facing competitive games at that time. The U-19 team successfully negotiated the preliminary qualifying group in the autumn and so will now try to repeat the feat as they play in the elite qualification group during that allotted international break period.

    Ryan Astley (Everton)
    Though only in his first year as a scholar with the Goodison Park club, Ryan's appearances for the Toffee's U-18 team have been limited to just those considered important enough to need his assistance. He has been used on a more regular basis in the games the U-23 side at the club have competed in. Management and coaches have determined to accelerate his progression in a fashion only used for players regarded as having exceptional ability and Ryan has responded to the challenge posed to him by producing assured performances against opposition possessing much more experience at that level of play. It does seem to be, that it is only a matter of time until we witness his debut for the Blues first team and it may well be that this event will arrive sooner rather than later. He would become another in a long line of players developed by the club, further enhancing Everton's excellent reputation in nurturing young talent fruitfully over the past many decades. In many cases, the players became stalwarts of the first team and revered fan favourites, and Ryan may be potentially one that could eventually join that list.

    Luke Jephcott (Plymouth Argyle)
    Luke was one of the players who made a significant contribution in helping the Wales U-19 team become successful as they progressed through from their qualifying group in the autumn games. Last season he was also prominent for Argyle's U-18 team as they secured impressive results and made it to the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup. Now a first year professional at the club, he has continued to develop his game to a level which has seen him become a member of the first team squad at Home Park. Since making his first team debut with a starting assignment in a Checkatrade Trophy match he has been regularly involved with the team, mostly appearing on the bench from which he has been introduced into games quite frequently, although he has also managed a couple of starts in league matches. The experience gained will hopefully be influential in his development towards an ever increasing amount of first team playing time. It may well be that it will also be important for the contribution that he can make for the Wales U-19 team in their upcoming tournament.

    Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest)
    As is Ryan, Brennan is also one born in the 2001 year. However, his birth date in the late spring time allowed him to be eligible to secure a scholar status at Forest prior to the start of the 2017/18 season. In his first year on a full time basis at the City Ground his performances for the U-18 team resulted in an eventual elevation to join in U-23 games a number of times during that season. This season, his only U-18 team appearances have been in a couple of FA Youth Cup matches when the coaching staff regarded his presence to be important. For the remainder of the season, he has been an integral part of the U-23 team as the club staff decided that this was best avenue of preparation for potential first team involvement. Obviously he is competitive in his midfield role against generally older age opponents in order to warrant inclusion at that level, but also adds to this with his productiveness in the goal scoring charts. He is particularly adept in that respect from set pieces. With Forest in with a chance of making the play-offs and quite a large first team squad, it is unlikely that Brennan will get to experience any game time with the first team this season. When next season's pre-season preparation matches are played, it will be surprising if he is not given a chance to show if he can step up to that level.

    Dylan Levitt (Manchester United)
    A player with vision and a precise execution of passing ability, which those who have witnessed it, have favourably compared to that possessed by one who thrilled a packed Old Trafford on numerous occasions over many seasons. Dylan seemingly has the tools of the trade at his disposal that may take his career on a path that sees him perform in situations where the highest levels of the game are competed. Of course, there will be plenty of challenges that he must overcome along the way if such a projection is to become a reality, but the ability he is exhibiting at this time is an encouraging sign that the possibility does exist. At present he is moving on from youth football and getting acclimatized to the requisites of U-23 football and will need to adapt and develop his skills to find success in each of these stepping stones as he aims for first team football. Adulation of fans, not only at The Theatre of Dreams, but also all that follow The Red Dragon national team would undoubtedly be the consequence if he does reach the pinnacle of performing stages.

    Sion Spence (Cardiff City)
    After a first season as a scholar with Cardiff in which Sion achieved a scoring rate more akin to a striker than the attacking midfield role he occupies, much was anticipated as being a possible breakthrough season for Sion as this present one began. There was no seeming disappointment as he continued to shine for the club's U-18 team as it began. Unfortunately, after just a few games he sustained an injury which sidelined him for the remainder of 2018. The good news is that his return to the team line-up at the start of this year has seen him not only continue to shine with his performances but also his prolific ability to hit the back of the net, enough of a rate to make most strikers envious. I am sure that both he and his coaches are pleased about his return to action, as well as in a determination if he can perform equally well at U-23 level. This will the challenge presented to him in the coming weeks as he transitions from the completion of his youth eligibility and the full time professional status of next season.

    Neco Williams (Liverpool)
    Another of those with a 2001 birth year date but also during the spring time, which now has him in the second year of his scholar tenure with the Reds. Though he has of course been eligible to play for the Liverpool U-18 team for the last couple of seasons and has done so with some regularity, this wasn't the only assignments presented to him over that period of time. Soon after his arrival on a full time basis at the club, the coaching staff selected him to play for the U-23 team. He has been able to produce performances at that level of play that have impressed sufficiently and resulted in him registering an appearance tally of about equal proportion between both teams. That number would almost certainly have been greater but for some periods absent through injury, Neco has just returned back to fitness very recently after missing a few weeks in his latest stint on the side lines. There can be little doubt of Neco having talent that is well above the norm of his age group and hopefully this can continue at a rate that will see him given an opportunity for first team consideration, as Liverpool do entertain for their most able of youngsters. In turn, it would add him to the pool of young talent available as an option for the Wales senior team.

    Mentioned above are some of the young Welsh talent expected to named in the U-19 squad selected for the elite qualifying tournament.. As can be ascertained from my accompanying comments, they are assimilating statistics which indicates their abilities and skills are present in abundance, resulting in a rate of progress which is amongst the most rapid in developmental football. What I must say next is that the list of names I have presented this week could have had quite a few more added to it on the basis of those who are also shining quite brightly on the various stages described and will also be very strong candidates for squad selection. In that respect it is a very exciting prospect that the Wales senior squad has not only gained strength in recent times by the development of what we term young guns that are already establishing themselves at that level, there seems to be supplementing pool of talent that could well be challenging those incumbents in the coming seasons.

    Focusing attention back to present times, it would seem from what I have written that the U-19 team that will be competing for a place in the Uefa finals during the summer is potentially very strong. Does this mean that we should be anticipating a successful qualification attempt? My belief is that the answer to that question can be cautiously a positive one. It will be far from an easy task for whichever team is the eventual success story. All four teams seem to be on a relative par and as only one of them can proceed on to the net phase, it is probably the team that can best capitalize on their opportunities during the tournament that will be the victor. We shall have to wait and see what transpires in those days towards the end of the month.

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    Posted: Wednesday 6th March 2019
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