page updated: Mon, 13 Nov 23 : 12:50 - refresh for updates
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Affiliated with the AFC Wimbledon academy from a young age, there was ongoing confidence amongst the coaching staff that midfielder Morgan Williams (2004) would eventually be a first team representative for the club. Moving on to a scholar status at the start of the 2021/22 season, management at the club not only exposed him to the challenge of U-18 team football but also elevated him to the older development team games on occasion and used him against men’s teams in area cup competitions. As he came towards the end of his scholar time last season, a couple of loan assignments with nearby clubs gave him additional men’s football exposure, culminating in his first team debut for the Dons in the final league game of the season and thereby fulfilling the prediction made some years ago. Now a professional and considered a first team squad member, Morgan made further senior team appearances early in the season before joining Woking FC whom he is presently assisting on a short term loan. He has certainly made a good impression on his temporary fans with a man of the match accolade in a recent game. It will undoubtedly be a case of building onto these achievements as he works towards becoming a regular in the team and possibly assist the Wimbledon name appear higher up in the pyramid system as they try and emulate those famous teams of the past. Last season, Morgan was a member of the Wales U-19 squad, having been a representative since his time at U-15 level with some disruption during covid restrictions.
Defender Matthew Baker (2003) was an academy member and then a scholar with Gillingham but they allowed him to leave the club and so it was Stoke City that offered him the opportunity to become a professional player. He signed with the club in the summer of 2021 and became a member of their development squad. He played regularly for the team and was doing well enough to earn a couple of appearances on the bench for their Championship team in the early weeks of last season. It resulted in Newport County negotiating for him to join them on loan in January of this year, proving to be a wise decision as management at the club were delighted with his contribution, helping them achieve an improvement in results and nullifying the fear of relegation. Such was the impression he made that the manager went on record in his desire to renew the arrangement for this season. Matthew was however injured playing for the Stoke U-21 team at the start of the season and was still in the recovery process when Newport decided to renew the loan at the end of the transfer window. After some further weeks of waiting, he has now returned to fitness and has been playing for the team in recent weeks. Both he and the club will hope he can be as influential for the team as he was last season. Matthew has a good collection of Wales caps, captaining the teams during his schoolboy times and played for the U-21 team last season.
The Wolverhampton Wanderers U-18 team has a strong representation of Welsh players this season and they are all getting plentiful playing time as they work on developing their careers. A second year scholar, midfielder Fin Ashworth (2005) was an academy associate when he first played for the U-18’s, eventually accumulating a double-digit appearance total two seasons ago. He has continued doing so regularly as a scholar. Introduced briefly to U-21 football last season, he has had more time with them in this one, making one start and another two substitute appearances. After participation in the 2019 Cymru Cup matches, Fin played for the Wales U-15’s in the 19/20 season and then for the U-17’s in 2021/22 when international age grade football resumed. Another midfielder at the club, Mackenzie Bradbury (2007) has started his time as a scholar this season and has resumed playing for the U-18’s after doing so for the last two seasons as an academy member. Playing regularly for the team, his nine times this season takes his total well past a couple of dozen. Captaining the Wales U-16 team last season, Mackenzie had played for the U-15’s the previous season and is a member of the U-17 squad this season. Last season, as a means of broadening their experience, even though still schoolboys, Mackenzie as well as defender Brayden Clarke (2007) were selected for a game categorized as a Wolves U-21 team game in which the opponents were a men’s team contesting a local area cup match. Also, a first year scholar at the club, Brayden first played for the U-18’s two seasons ago as well as in some during the last one and in all but one game this season. After playing for the Wales U-15’s, Brayden was then moved up into the U-16’s in that same 2021/22 season and likewise played up a year when involved with the U-17’s last season. He has remained with the U-17’s this season. The last member of the quartet is goalkeeper Lewys Benjamin (2006) a new player at Wolves, having been signed by them from Cardiff City to join their scholar ranks. He has played in all but two of this season’s U-18 games, having also played once for the Cardiff U-18’s as an academy member and being selected on the bench for the first team in last season’s third round FA Cup tie. Lewys has played for the Wales U-19 team this season. News has been released this week that the club has now signed him to a professional contract and so I offer him a deserved congratulatory salute.
It has been a busy and most certainly exciting time in the footballing life of Bristol Rovers academy associate Ollie Dewsbury (2008) recently. The young striker played for their U-18 team in the early part of the week and scored their only goal in a FA Youth Cup defeat. Soon after he was training with the first team squad, and it culminated in his inclusion for that team’s FA Cup match. Summoned off the bench for the final minutes, the introduction marked the achievement of becoming the youngest debutant for the club in an FA Cup game and the second youngest for any first team match. The honour was previously the possession of another Welsh youth international, Max Edwards-Stryjewski, a current second year scholar, who now moves one place lower on the list. Immediately after the cup match Ollie left Bristol as he travelled to join up with the Wales U-16 squad gathered to compete in this week’s Victory Shield competition.
Another youngster with reason to celebrate is Newport County forward Alfie Young (2005), as his first occasion of involvement with the first team in a matchday situation occurred. A second year scholar at the club, he was on the bench as the team played an EFL Trophy match last week and then remained in the squad that competed in the first round FA Cup tie at the weekend. Although he did not get any playing time in either match it does signify the manager’s confidence in his ability and there may be an opportunity for him to become a debutant in the coming weeks.
photo embedded from FAW cymru ]