If you ask Notts fans of their favourite moment of last season, I think we’d all agree it was slim pickings really. You can rack your brain and recall some enjoyable games under Keith Curle at the beginning of the season. You even have to (whisper it) acknowledge a couple of results under Chris Kiwomya.
But for the 200 or so County followers who made the effort to travel to Walsall on the evening of Friday, April 26th, they’ll likely all tell you the Midland Youth Cup Final match was their highlight.
Sure County lost – after an absorbing 120 minutes of football – but what we all witnessed, what we were all reminded of was what it felt like to watch a team of players proud to wear our club’s shirt.
Kyle Dixon, Romello Nangle and Malachi Lavelle-Moore would step up in the close-season to sign hard-earned professional contracts. Others such as Kameron Campbell and Mitchell Clarke who had shone, cruelly, as is football, wouldn’t make the cut and would disappear from sight – assuming you follow neither of course on social media. The remainder would progress to the second and final years of their scholarships.
This brings us to this year’s squad of course.
On Saturday morning at Highfields the youth team play their last game of season, mere hours before the senior team take to the field at Meadow Lane for another episode of our latest Great Escape.
I’ve had the privilege of watching the youth team a few times this season. What i first witnessed wasn’t actually too bad – a mixture of first and second year players still looking to gel. The movement was good, passing what you would expect – but still a side lacking a clinical edge in the final third. In Colby Bishop, midway through the season they found just that. Scoring a hat-trick on his debut as a trialist, it wasn’t long before he was signed to the club. He’s barely stopped scoring since – a feat acknowledged by Shaun Derry who put him on the bench for a number of senior games.
This guy is the real deal, and it’s terrifying to think he yet has another year in our youth system. Strong in possession, adept with the ball at his feet quite and clearly with an eye for goal, Colby Bishop could quite easily be our find of the season – if not for many years.
Every great striker of course needs the perfect foil. In recent times we had the diminutive Luke Rodgers alongside Lee Hughes, right now Jimmy Spencer’s brute force compliments perfectly Ronan Murray’s cut-price Gianfranco Zola act. Bishop at youth level has Elliot Brown – as speedy as he is blonde, Browny himself has goals in him, yet also more than happy to supply the assists. Just last week away at table-topping, league-winning Bradford City, he twice served up goals on a plate for Bish and Jack Golding. Just a week previously he grabbed a brace away at Scunthorpe United in a 4-0 victory so impressive that the Iron’s coach hailed Notts as the best team they had played this season.
The game at Bradford however was one that County should have won having led twice. As coach Andy McMillan rightfully points out, a loss of shape cost Notts the win in the second half when up until that point they’d been mostly in control. Gino Kelleher in the centre of the park put in the best performance I’ve seen from him yet.
A strong, ball-playing midfielder on hand to snuff out any Bantams break in the first half – he was substituted in the second half shortly after the home side had equalised for a second time. Bolstering the middle of the park alongside him are Elliot Hodge and Jack Golding, two players at the heart of nigh on all of the side’s creative play.
Goalkeeper Harry Andrews could do nothing about either goal truth be told. The first, a 35-yard screamer stands up there as one of the best goals I’ll ever see in person. Andrews couldn’t even get near it. You can look at the youth team’s number one and think he may be too small for a goalkeeper, but the speed at which he covers ground is most impressive – his agility even more so. Shepherded by players as often as impressive as his defensive line of Tyler Guy, Kieran Geldenhuys, Rhys Myers and (last season’s Player Of The Year) Brad MacGowan, Andrews will find out this Summer whether he has made the grade at Meadow Lane. His improvement in the last year of watching his performances alone should make this an interesting one to watch.
Of course, the law of averages dictates that plenty of the players mentioned here won’t make the cut in the Summer. A real shame. Like the side a year before them, they wear our club’s badge with pride and are never found wanting for effort. Are they perfect? The finished article? Of course not, these are lads still learning what they hope will later become their trade.
Thankfully for Notts County however, they continue to do so at a pace which leaves other clubs looking on only wishing they had youngsters as good as our current crop.Their season culminates this Saturday with an 11am kick-off at home to Hull City – another side comprehensively beaten earlier in the season.
Given their strong run of form which has seen the side lose just two of it’s last twelve contests (scoring 28 in the process), the team will hopefully sign off their campaign in some style.
The youth team’s players and coaching staff have all been highly appreciative of any support they’ve been shown this season so give it some thought towards attending this Saturday morning. Kick-off is at 11am at Highfields.
Follow @blackwhitezine on Twitter for updates and team news if you can’t make it.