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    Wales Football Youth
    Young Guns Blog
    by John Jones

    Fin Stevens
    Oliver Hammond
    Kiban Rai
    Harrison Bright
    Aaron James
    Harry Ashfield

    page updated: Sat, 28 Oct 23 : 10:00 - refresh for updates

    To read all last season blog posts scroll through posts on the young guns page

    Signed by Brentford from non league football as a seventeen year old, defender Fin Stevens impacted quickly at his new club, making his first team debut soon after. He was introduced as a substitute in an early October 2020 fourth round Carabao Cup tie and played a little more than the last ten minutes of the game. He had many instances of bench time with the first team throughout the season, played the whole games in their two FA Cup ties and made brief appearances off the bench in two league games. He was on the bench when Brentford won their Championship play-off final and so two seasons ago the club became the newest first time members of the Premier League at the time. Signed to become a member of their B team squad, it was for them that he accumulated most of his playing time, his rise to first team involvement so quickly was an unexpected bonus for the coaches. The need and ability of the club to acquire quality players to compete in the Premier League reduced Fin’s immediate prospects of obtaining playing time and though his first team contributions were only similarly to the previous one, he remained in the matchday squad throughout the season. A retention of Premier League status created another influx of players for last season and a decision to allow Fin to be loaned out to Swansea City. Not a move that provided the intent Brentford and Fin desired, consequently he returned to his parent club for the second half of it. This season, it is a loan at Oxford United, and with a good amount of playing time accumulated along with the team challenging at the head of the League One table, all parties are seemingly satisfied with this arrangement. It quickly became apparent that soon after joining Brentford, Fin had eligibility to represent Wales. In March 2021 he was selected for the U-21 squad and has played constantly for the team ever since, excepting a couple of games missed through injury. A total of fourteen caps is undoubtedly an impressive one but still well short of the record set by Shaun MacDonald some seasons back.

    Well documented and undoubtedly apt, Nottingham Forest signed a plethora of new players as a means of preserving their Premier League status upon their return to the top flight last season. Success in doing so provided the means to instigate another influx for this season. This tactic is not the only focus of management at the club and their fans can proudly reference home grown talents who have also contributed significantly. Midfielder Oliver Hammond is regarded as another potential first team regular in the coming seasons. He is already credited with three first team appearances, his debut occurring two seasons ago when he started in a Carabao Cup tie. He played in two more last season, along with having bench time in a few Premier League games. Currently on loan at Cheltenham Town, although disrupted by being unavailable through injury, he has already played in eight games for them. Going forward, his quality along with others will be important in helping the team overcome what has been a difficult start to their time in League One this season. Had it not been for the cancellation of schedules at that time, Oliver would likely have been selected for Wales as an U-19 representative. His first cap was therefore received when playing for the U-21’s and by now has a total of seven having become a regular in the meantime.

    Along with the preservation of their Football League status, a situation in doubt part way through last season, forward Kiban Rai’s development and subsequent first team debut were positives that delighted both management and fans of Newport County. Born and raised in Brecon, Newport signed Kiban from his local club in early 2021 and he started his time as a scholar with them a few months later. Impressing as a member of the club’s U-18 team resulted in his first involvement in the senior team matchday squad in early March, an occasion that also provided the opportunity for his first team debut when introduced off the bench for the final few minutes of the game. It was more than just a gesture of encouragement by the manager as he remained in the squad for the remainder of the season, had another couple of brief appearances before getting a starting assignment for the final game. Now a professional, he is established as a first team squad member. has played eight more games this season. With an EFL Trophy game being his only starting role, it is a case of getting Kiban increasingly comfortable in matches as the manager uses a conservative approach. Nevertheless, Kiban has managed to record some memorable moments, probably none more so than when entering the game with almost twenty minutes remaining in the Carabao Cup tie versus Brentford. It was sufficient time for Kiban to score his first senior goal, a bonus of it being against Premier League opponents. Defender Harrison Bright is currently on loan at Cymru Premier side Barry Town United where he is demonstrating his adeptness to compete at that level of football by being a constant in the team throughout this season. An introduction to the league occurred when he assisted Pontypridd United during the second half of last season. Becoming a scholar at Newport for the start of the 2020/21 season, he made his first team debut a few months later when introduced off the bench for the final ten minutes or so of an EFL Trophy game. Retained by the club with a switch to being a full professional before the start of last season, Harrison is regarded as having the potential to become a regular first team contributor for them, with his next appearance taking his total into double figures when it occurs.

    A participant in the 2019 Cymru Cup games, defender Aaron James was an associate at the Wrexham academy at that time. He continued to make good progress at the club and within a few months of becoming a scholar with them in 2021, his contract was renegotiated as he converted to a professional status. The rejuvenation of both the football club and the spirit of the town through the desperately needed celebrity investment has resulted in Wrexham regaining its Football League membership. A theoretical projection of continued improvement is considered an essential element of the path ahead. Even with the power to purchase the required talent now available, it is realized by those in authority at the club that player development is an extremely important factor in sustaining success, with plans seemingly in place to address the issue. Aaron was part of an inherited staff that exemplifies the wisdom of such decisions. He made his first team debut for the club last season and then made his first appearance for this season when introduced as a substitute late on in a recent EFL Trophy match. This was followed by a starting assignment in the succeeding League Two match, a game he was credited with providing a very satisfactory performance in what was somewhat of an unfamiliar role for him. I’m sure that he will not only derive great satisfaction as a reward for the efforts he has exerted, but also strengthens his determination to continue his improvement and justify further opportunities. Aaron was one of several promising youngsters at the club entrusted with bench duty for the EFL Trophy tie. For one, it concluded in a thrilling moment. Seventeen year old local boy, forward Harry Ashfield, made his debut when introduced as a last minute substitute. He will be another, striving to repeat the experience as quickly as possible. The base is already set, and hopefully in time the Wrexham development system will provide occasions whereby adulation of the fans will be directed towards players they regard as one of their own helping the team thrive, as well probably providing candidates for national representation. A happening that would be a repetitive dialogue of recorded history.

    photo embedded from FAW cymru ]

    Posted: Saturday 28th October 2023
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