17-year-old football writer Nathan Carr was at West Bromwich Albion’s Birmingham Senior Cup clash with Stourbridge on Tuesday night. He came back with this assessment of the Baggies’ brightest youngsters.
On a chilly Tuesday night, I went to watch West Brom’s youngsters take on Stourbridge in the quarter-final of the Birmingham Senior Cup (BSC). With tickets fairly cheap, the stadium within close proximity and an Albion win in the bag, I didn’t waste my time.
First and foremost, for those readers who are blissfully unaware of the BSC’s existence, it’s a local tournament for non-league teams and Premier League youth squads based in Birmingham. It involves the Under-21 sides of Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Wolves and West Brom as well as the likes of Leamington, Nuneaton Town and Redditch United.
The bigger, well-known clubs tend to field their younger players in order to give non-league opposition a fighting chance. Villa – who haven’t participated in the tournament for a while – boast 19 titles in total. The BSC provides the perfect balance between eager, expressive youngsters wanting to earn promotion to the first team and older, wirier players who relish the opportunity of gaining some silverware outside of their respective league.
Before kick-off at the War Memorial Athletic Ground, Albion were expected winners. But with the pitch in very poor condition and a strong home crowd cheering The Glassboys on, the visitors were made to work for their win. West Brom’s coach David Oldfield sent out a relatively inexperienced side which defended solidly and attacked with aggression. It was a great chance to see how these young lads would deal with the physicality of the match.
In truth, they dealt with it impressively. Albion striker Alex Jones – who has come on leaps and bounds – completed a double but really Oldfield’s men should have had more. In the second half clear-cut chances were missed and if the back-line of Francis, C Jones, Howkins and Donnellan wasn’t so resolute then it could well have ended up a draw. Or worse.
West Brom set up with one up top, Jones, and two speedy wingers with Mani O’Sullivan deployed just behind the frontman. O’Sullivan was a menace throughout with his awareness, elegance on the ball and darting runs in behind the shaky Stourbridge defence. I’d heard quite a bit about him before my visit and he did look almost complete except his finishing let him down. How on earth he didn’t score at least one I will never know.
The approach from Albion was positive, lively and fluid. The nimble Joe Ward played a big role in the first goal – his shot saved but Jones was waiting in anticipation to tap home. Samir Nabi, who scored in the week against Norwich in the Under-21 league, was dynamic and hungry to get forward. At times his final ball lacked conviction but very rarely did he pass back or run into trouble. After the first goal, the game went rather flat. The two central midfielders Liam O’Neill and Aaron Birch retained possession to effect; both cool and composed on the ball. The former has previously been called up to the substitutes bench for the first team and the latter is making significant strides, known for his screamer against Southampton in the Under-21 league not too long ago.
The second goal was coming and Jones secured it, albeit in dubious fashion as the striker looked offside but the linesman thought otherwise. It can sometimes be difficult for a lone striker to impress and influence proceedings but the service to him was sharp and frequent. All Jones had to do was be in the right place at the right time.
With the clock ticking, I was lobbying for Oldfield to mix it up with personnel and Andre Wright and Rees Wedderburn came on for the latter stages. Neither were really given a fair crack of the whip but the starting eleven proved to be more than capable of getting the job done. All in all, it was a pleasing result especially given Stourbridge scored with two minutes remaining and nerves began to jangle. A result that catapults West Brom into the semi-final where they could realistically face Birmingham (a very local derby).
Rose – Had very little to do. Kept on guard, decent handling, kicked well on such a torrid surface. Can see why he recently penned a new deal with the club.
Donnellan – Tidy in possession, played it simple. Good engine on him.
C Jones – Called up to the subs bench for game at Stoke last season. Strong, mobile and reads the game well.
Howkins – Really tall central defender. Robust, competent in the air. Must improve on positioning.
Francis – Another gangly defender. Tenacious, a good passer. Fed the winger often and covered plenty of ground.
O’Neill – A class act. On the fringes of being called up to first team. Composed, brings others into play, leader.
Birch – Confident central midfielder. Reminds me of James Morrison in his looks and style of play. Combined well with O’Neill.
Nabi – Quick winger, can also operate up front. Swung in some dangerous crosses, full of endeavour.
Ward – Very impressed with him. Low centre of gravity, not shy of taking on man, contributed towards first goal. One to keep an eye on.
O’Sullivan – Very good player. Clever movement off the ball, skilful, just needs to be more composed in front of goal.
A Jones – Compared to former Baggies striker Shane Long in his style of play. Works the channels, lively inside the box. Used to be a bit lightweight, improved greatly.
Wright – Made very brief cameo. Lanky forward, put himself about. Need to see more to judge better.
Wedderburn – Diminutive winger with a slender build. Also made very brief cameo but showed some promising touches of the ball.
Follow Nathan on Twitter @_Carr16