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    Brighton and Hove Albion U-18s - A review of the 2017-18 season

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    At the start of this review it is worth re-iterating that the purpose of the academy system is to produce players who will become a part of the first team squad. Individual player development will always take precedence over the results of matches. There are a whole host of reasons why the club would not necessarily field their “best” XI in any one game, or play players in their normal or “best” position. Ultimately, the success of the academy can only be judged by the number of individuals breaking into the first team, not on the match results of the youth team throughout the season.

    To the review itself: 2017-18 was the fourth season of Albion’s U-18s competing in the U-18 Premier League. At this level the 24 Category One clubs are split into two divisions geographically (with a 12-team North and South division). This makes for a 22-match regular season; there was a change this campaign as the Merit divisions (where teams were bracketed with the clubs who finished in a similar position, in both divisions, to play out a 7-game mini-league) were done away with. Instead, an U-18 version of the Premier League Cup was introduced.

    Ian Buckman entered the campaign as head coach of the U-18s for the third season running. However, on November 1 2017 Portsmouth FC announced that their U-18s head coach Mikey Harris was leaving Fratton Park to take up "a similar role" at Albion "in the near future". Five weeks later, in a preview of the FA Youth Cup 3rd round tie, Albion referred to Mark Beard (previously the assistant to Buckman) as joint head coach of the U-18s alongside Harris. Apparently Buckman took up a role as Assistant Academy Manager, with one of his first tasks a trip to Florida to cast his eye over academy players Teddy Hoare and Fynn Talley who were on international duty with the England U-16s in the Nike International Friendly Tournament.

    In September, Frank Lampard Jnr visited the academy and took part in a question and answer session with the scholars:-

    Back row, l-r: Columbus Ibeh, Tareq Shihab, Piotr Zalewski (GK)[partially hidden], Isaac Hutchinson, George Bentley (GK), Jordan Araujo, Matt Weaire, Ryan Longman, Tyrese Fornah, Charlie Ferguson, Cam Tutt
    Front row, l-r: Tom McGill (GK), Mamadou Kone, Frank Lampard Jnr, Hamish Morrison, Alex Cochrane, Danny Cashman


    The league campaign was something of a mixed bag. The first three matches were all won, but following the third victory (over Tottenham) on August 26 there wouldn’t be another league win until St Valentine’s Day. That victory (a 5-2 win over Norwich City) heralded a run of handsome wins and heavy defeats. Overall, the league campaign represented a slight improvement on the last couple of seasons as Albion finished 8th out of 12 teams:-

    P:22 W:6 D:6 L:10 FOR:36 AGAINST:43 GD:-7 PTS:24

    The most prestigious competition at this level of football is the FA Youth Cup. Last season Albion were seconds away from reaching the sixth round for the first time in years. This time around Albion were drawn at home to Newcastle United in the third round, who Albion had beaten 3-2 away from home in the Premier League Cup in September. Therefore the subsequent 5-0 drubbing by the Geordies was something of an unpleasant shock to the system.

    In the new Premier League Cup the Albion were drawn in a group with Chelsea, Newcastle and Blackburn. The 3-2 win over the Toon was followed by (an expected) defeat to the Blues (who have absolutely dominated U-18 football for a number of years now) and a win over Rovers when the returning Aaron Connolly scored a hat-trick. Unfortunately Albion didn’t quite do enough to earn one of the two best second-placed spots to ensure progression to the knockout stages.

    Player review by position

    Goalkeeper: As in 2016-17, 2nd-year scholar Tom McGill made most appearances (the only league match he didn’t play in was the opening fixture at home to West Ham). 1st-year scholar George Bentley made 5 appearances; in January he also joined Worthing on work experience and made 8 appearances for their U-18 side. At the transfer deadline he was registered by the Mackerel Men as a first-team player to provide cover for Lucas Covolan. Covolan subsequently suffered illness over the Easter weekend and Bentley made his debut in senior men’s football when he helped Worthing beat Merstham 3-2 (which ensured their survival in Bostik Premier). Worthing manager Adam Hinshelwood was impressed by his performance and he also played in the next fixture. Polish 1st-year scholar Piotr Zalewski was named as the U-18s sub goalkeeper on a handful of occasions but has yet to make his Albion debut.

    Full-backs: 2nd-year scholar Hamish Morrison made the right-back position his own with 22 starts in league and cup (although he picked up an injury at the very end of the season). There were a couple of starts in that position for Mamadou Kone, and Ayo Tanimowo appeared in the final 3 matches; he is an U-16 schoolboy who had played for Norwich City AGAINST Albion in February and who had supposedly agreed his scholarship with the Canaries, but it looks as though he may now have switched to the South Coast.

    At left-back, U-16 schoolboy Haydon Roberts made the most starts with 9 (although he made almost as many appearances at centre-back and also appeared in midfield). In March he was called up to the England U-16 squad for the Montaigu Tournament in France; he started in the matches against Cameroon and France:-

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    Haydon Roberts (no. 12) lines up for the England U-17s prior to facing France in the Montaigu Tournament

    Roberts ended a memorable campaign when, the day before his 16th birthday, he helped his school (Hove Park) win the Sussex Schools U-16 Cup against Claremont. 1st-year scholar Cam Tutt had to bide his time but ended up with 8 appearances at left-back as he became a regular in the side towards the end of the campaign. Alex Cochrane made a handful of appearances there as did Kone.

    Centre-backs: With Sam Rolph departing for Peterborough last June (only to move on to Pagham and then East Grinstead, with a trial at St Mirren last week), U-16 schoolboy Ben Clark-Eden started the campaign at centre-back. As it transpired, he would make 21 starts and be a regular throughout the season. 1st-year Tareq Shihab made 10 starts at the position (plus almost as many in midfield). Shihab started for the England U-17 side in a friendly against Russia in November and was called up again for a double-header against Brazil in Spain in March; unfortunately he picked up an injury that ended his season prematurely. 1st-year scholar Kipras Kazukolovas, the Lithuanian U-17 captain, was called up by the national U-21 side in September at the age of 16 and was on the bench for a Euro qualifier in Denmark. Unfortunately, just four days later and in only his 3rd Albion appearance, he suffered a serious knee injury playing against Leicester that required surgery and ended his season before it had really begun. Even worse news followed earlier this month when he discovered that he would require another operation and another 10 months of recovery.

    Haydon Roberts made 8 starts in the centre of defence and 1st-year scholar Matt Weaire was another who had to bide his time but started the final 9 matches of the campaign. U-15 Ed Turns made one substitute appearance towards the end of the season as he got a taste of the youth team set-up.

    Central midfield: Of the two 2nd-year central midfielders from Eastbourne, Isaac Hutchinson (son of Eastbourne United manager Tobi) made a total of 18 appearances and scored two goals. He also scored a couple of goals in 4 appearances while on work experience at East Grinstead. He won’t, however, be remaining at the club; since February he has had trials at Burnley, Nottm Forest, Sheffield United and Southend United. Charlie Ferguson made 10 appearances; he also went on work experience to East Grinstead and made 8 appearances for the Wasps. He is another whose future lies away from the Albion.

    U-16 Teddy Hoare started the first 5 matches of the season. He impressed when a mixed Albion U-19 side beat Rangers in a friendly at Ibrox in September. He captained the England U-16 side in a friendly tournament in Scotland in July (and scored against Qatar), and was called up for the Nike International Friendly Tournament in Florida in December. After only 15 minutes of the opening match against the US, he suffered an ACL injury that required surgery. He will hopefully return in time for the new campaign. Tyrese Fornah made 18 appearances but in March he moved on to Nottm Forest, playing in their final six U-18 matches of the season and making 4 appearances for their U-23s.

    Canadian midfielder Jordan Araujo joined the club in August. Having made his debut, after 7 starts he suffered an injury in December. He returned to the side in March but in only his second game back suffered a serious knee injury, tearing both his ACL and MCL and requiring surgery. He will be out of the game for between 9 and 12 months. Portuguese Mamadou Kone also joined the club in August (having spent eight years at Benfica). Nominally a right-back, he made 14 appearances (scoring 1 goal) in both full-back positions and in midfield.

    Jayden Onen spent a number of years in the Arsenal academy system but was released in 2016-17 during his U-16 schoolboy campaign. He trialed at Crystal Palace and commenced his scholarship in Croydon last July. He started the first four U-18 matches of the season for Palace but that was it; on November 1 he started for the Albion U-18s against Aston Villa. His move became permanent and he made 12 appearances (scoring 4 goals) until injury ended his campaign early. So, what does it mean to be able to escape from the bad guys and end up with the good guys? Jayden’s tweet tells you everything you need to know:-


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