Written on March 3, 2017
UNTIL England can produce a truly world-class team capable of winning a major tournament then the debate over the development of young players will go on.
Premier League teams are certainly throwing enough money at it with their Academies. In Manchester itself, City’s owners have built one of the best facilities in the world for their youngsters. But given how many actually come through an Academy and establish themselves at the top level, you have to wonder if clubs are getting a good enough return for the money they’re investing.
Something is not working. Some argue the quality of coaching simply doesn’t compare with that on the continent, others say it’s the sterile atmosphere of Academy games which have replaced reserve-team football. FC UNITED manager Karl Marginson would probably be in the latter camp.
Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy are just two examples of players who have honed their skills in the more competitive environments of lower-league and non-league football. And in Nathan Lowe, Marginson believes he has another player who is benefiting more from playing ‘proper football’ than just going through the motions in the Academy structure.
In Saturday’s National League North game away to Gloucester, the Reds were 2-0 down inside 21 minutes. That remained the score until 66 minutes when, out of nothing, Lowe chested the ball down 25 yards out and volleyed over the keeper to give FC hope of mounting a fightback. They then got a penalty but captain Jerome Wright went straight down the middle and his spot-kick was saved.
— Laurie Hanna (@LaurieHanna) February 27, 2017
The Reds still trailed with 4 minutes left but a well-worked free-kick move resulted in sub Tom Greaves equalising from a low Jake Williams cross. And within a minute, Lowe won the ball back just inside his own half, took a look up and tried his luck from near the halfway line. The back-pedalling keeper got a hand to it but could only help it into the net, giving FC a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
Lowe was signed from Burnley in the summer and after scoring in the Reds’ win over Stockport County in August, went goalless until February. The midfielder, who turns 21 on March 24, ended his goal drought in the 3-3 draw with Chorley so now has 3 in 3 games – and 4 in 21 all season.
Marginson has a track record of putting faith in youngsters who have been released by League clubs and helping them get back into the pro game, such as Charlie Raglan, Tom Davies and Ollie Banks, with the latter currently a regular for in-form Oldham in League One.
“That’s fantastic for Nathan,” said Marginson. “He’s another example of when you give young, talented players a chance, they can produce magic. He’s been schooled at Burnley over the past few years but I think he wishes he’d been here since he was 16. When you’re playing for points, it’s a real game of football. When you’re playing that development-type football, it’s a bit false. But he showed what he’s got in his locker with the quality of those two strikes.”
Saturday’s victory saw FC bounce back from defeat at Stockport and was their first win in 8 in the league – since beating rock-bottom Altrincham on Boxing Day. It was also another notable away win for the Reds. Gloucester upset 2nd-placed Salford City 3 weeks ago while Stockport’s defeat at 3rd-placed Kidderminster last Saturday means FC remain the last side to earn a point at Aggborough, winning 2-0 there in October.
“As long as we didn’t concede again I thought we’d definitely get something out of the game,” Marginson added. “With missing a penalty as well, it showed great character and great strength of mind from the players, and the goals we scored were real quality.”
The Reds are now 13th in the table, 9 points clear of the drop zone, and play the return fixture with Kidderminster this Saturday. Striker Dale Johnson joined Glossop on dual-registration terms last week in a bid to boost his fitness while youngster Zac Corbett hopes to remain at centre-half after returning from injury to make just his 3rd start against Gloucester.
CURZON ASHTON are 3 points above FC in 12th and host 10th-placed Brackley, while STOCKPORT COUNTY are at home to Chorley, whose boss Jim Gannon believes will be their rival for the final play-off spot.
SALFORD CITY aim to keep up their chase of leaders AFC Fylde as they visit Tamworth and although ALTRINCHAM finally earned their 1st home win last week, they’re still 17 points of safety as they visit AFC Telford.
Fellow strugglers STALYBRIDGE CELTIC are away to Alfreton while MACCLESFIELD TOWN, who still hope to make the National League play-offs, have a tough trip to 3rd-placed Forest Green. Macc’s FA Trophy quarter-final replay at home to Dulwich Hamlet has been rearranged for Wednesday night.