The Kids Were Alright On The Night
I think Alex fans can be rest assured that, after last night, the future is still bright at Gresty Road.
It's always said that the Academy has its peaks and troughs on its never ending production line and it feels like we're just coming out of a trough right now. Nicky Maynard, who left over three years ago, was the last major product of the youth system and whilst we've certainly not been short of youngsters stepping up to the first team there's been no one standing up to get the scouts drooling.
Of course Shaun Miller is likely to depart sooner rather than later following his fine progression into the first team in the last couple of years but there's still no knowing just how far the likes of Ashley Westwood, Luke Murphy and Byron Moore can go. Are they to be stuck at League 1 and Championship level or can they push on, as David Vaughan did, and break into the Premier League?
Last night Dario fielded 10 outfield players who had all featured in the Academy's Under-18s team, leaving an 'outfield average age' of just 19, and it was full to bursting with talent. It's been suggested that a golden generation is fast approaching the first team and it was evident to see last night. Two players were handed full debuts, Max Clayton and Oliver Turton, whilst the likes of Antoni Sarcevic, Caspar Hughes & Nick Powell still only have a handful of starts between them and young striker Mike Koral's inclusion on the bench was his first taste of the first team. Every one of them can take a lot from their first experience of mens football.
It wasn't all plain sailing, sloppy passing was there and Macclesfield were able to use their size to their advantage, but this was teenage debutants up against a team largely made up of seasoned pros and more to the point, a League Two team of seasoned pros, unforgiving throughout any match whether the opposition is 17 or 37. Also good to remember these are Crewe Alexandra youngsters, we don't breed brutes, all are typical of the academy; small, lean young players but all are youngsters so comfortable on the ball and never afraid to ask for it.
The midfield was asked a lot of, when Luke Murphy is your old head at 21 years old you know we're unlikely to overrun the opposition. Casper Hughes' lack of size of evident but settled in as the match went on, helped by being a player who isn't afraid to get stuck in. Antoni Sarcevic meanwhile has always impressed me when called upon, he's still very raw, but he's got energy, pace and last night showed superb vision that just wasn't quite realised.
Oliver Turton, in at right back, was for me perhaps the most impressive on the night. After a shaky start he was soon dominating his position and comfortably playing the ball out from the back, based on that performance there's plenty to suggest he could be pushing a first team spot before the season is out.
And we all know about Max Clayton and Nick Powell. The latter is finally starting to find his feet after a year of brief substitute appearances whilst Clayton got his first professional goal to go with his first start. It's clear the hype around the pair is justified and the odd barmy message board post wondering if Powell would ever make it last season completely un-needed. It's not all about 'bursting onto the scene' the Dean Ashton way, you can see when a younger has 'it'.
To think last night didn't even introduce us to the various other highly rated youngsters within the club, the likes of Ben Garratt, Brendan Daniels, George Ray, Andy White amongst others. It's safe to say that the academy hasn't lost it's touch and I'm certain there are one or two million pound players mentioned within this article.
We're likely, and rightly, going to see the team revert back to the usual on Saturday. Miller, Ajay, Westy, Martin will all be back in and who knows, maybe returns for Bell and Artell. Last night though was a good preview of what's to come in a year or two, a large group of very talented youngsters primed. Hold tight, it may take a couple of years, but they could be the ones to bring back some glory years.