Malcolm Dawson writes……at only three quid admission plus a loyalty point to count towards away tickets this was a must not miss game. Well it was for me anyway and the three members of the Heart of England branch that I bumped into, who had made the trip up from Coventry, for what many would class as a meaningless game.
It wasn’t meaningless for the club either because whilst this may not be the number one priority it did give Jack Ross and his staff the opportunity to give Robbin Ruiter, Charlie Wyke, Jerome Sinclair, Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan, Reece James and Dylan McGeouch some much needed match time and to have a look at some of players who will hope to step up from the U23s in Ethan Robson, Luke Molyneux, Denver Hume and Mbunga Kimpioka. The fact the competition rules state that the team had to include four outfield players who had either started the last league game or who will start the following match (or meet some other criteria in terms of games played) would seem to indicate that Charlie Wyke is already pencilled in for the weekend.
It wasn’t a classic but beat staying in and watching Emmerdale though I probably would have gone to see Esh Winning beat Durham City in preference.
Pete Sixsmith was there of course and here’s what he made of the night’s proceedings.
STOKE CITY UNDER 21’S (HOME)
The EFL trophy has been around for many years in its various guises. We played in it once in 1988 when it was The Sherpa Van Trophy, beating Scarborough and Crewe Alexandra before losing to a Brian Honour goal when Hartlepool United visited a windswept Roker Park in February 1988. I missed that one as I was moving into Sixsmith Towers at the time and was sitting polishing my balls in the Billiard Room – well, you have to keep the shine on the ivory.
For the last two seasons, we have turned out in the Checkatrade Trophy (it’s latest guise after various van manufacturers, windscreen repairers and paint makers) with our Under 23’s. I went to Rochdale a couple of years ago, working on the basis that I may never have the chance to see a Sunderland side at Spotland – that one came back to bite me – and witnessed a Donald Love goal in a 1-1 draw, although the pleasures of that particular evening were tempered by a penalty shoot-out loss.
Our fall from grace (or in Rochdale’s case Gracie) led to our first team playing at home to Stoke City Under 21s. They were representing a club who could well be on a similar trajectory to us in that they have a new manager, one who is used to the Championship but who is having difficulties with what appears to be a grumpy squad and a fan base that can be as intolerant and fractious as ours was after relegation.
They had won at Hetton a couple of weeks ago and we knew that they had some decent players. Tyrese Campbell (Kevin’s little lad) was one of them and he kept Alim Ozturk and Tom Flanagan on their toes. Centre half Harry “Soapy” Souttar, a 6’6” specimen of finest Aberdeen granite had also played at Hetton where he looked good. In the more opulent surrounds of the Stadium of Light, he looked even better. At 19, he is a name to watch out for and could form a double act for Scotland with his older brother John, who plays for Hearts and who turned us down a couple of years ago.
Jack Ross may well have been aware of the Souttar siblings and regarded Souttar Minor as a good opponent for Charlie Wyke to cut his teeth on. If Souttar is reminiscent of Aberdeen granite, Wyke is a piece of Teesside steel in that he has strength and presence if not a great deal of pace and mobility. On this evening’s showing granite beat steel but only because the alloy is regaining its fitness levels after injury.
The game was played at a pleasing pace but was reminiscent of Under 23 matches in the past. Tackles were gentle and caused no harm. The ball was moved around so that everyone got a touch and for Wyke and Ethan Robson, both returning from injury, this was exactly what was needed.
Dylan McGeouch skippered the side and moved the ball around quickly although to less effect than we hoped for, Chris Maguire behaved himself after a spell on the naughty step after his near red card at the weekend and almost scored when a well taken free kick curled onto the angle of post and crossbar.
Josh Maja found Souttar and his Irish colleague Nathan Collins much more effective than some of the Third Division defenders he has come across. He did have the best attempt of the first half, forcing a fine save from Hungarian keeper Daniel Gyollai, a man who made Souttar look like Charlie Drake.
Tom Flanagan looks a useful acquisition while Ozturk had another sound game and did much to win the crowd over. He appears to be the one to target this season for those who cannot rest unless they have someone to pick on. Honeyman is next in the queue and others may follow. I remember that even in the halcyon days of 1963-64, Brian Usher was the fall guy, being awarded the nickname “Mary.”
The outstanding performance of the night came from Denver Hume. He has been around for a while now and at 22, needs to make the breakthrough either here or elsewhere. The previous managers have not been able to use young players due to the precarious situations we have found ourselves in and for whatever reasons Hume has not gone out on loan and has stagnated in the Under 23’s a la Rhys Greenwood.
He played on his wrong side in this game but showed excellent defensive qualities and he pushed forward very well. He forced a good save from Gyollai and looked as if he was ready for first team football. The unconvincing form shown by Donald Love may see him get that opportunity sooner rather than later.
Jerome Sinclair got 25 minutes under his belt and gave us a different option up front. Whereas Maja approaches the game as if he were dabbing paint on a canvas with a fine brush in the mould of Vermeer, Sinclair is more like a Jackson Pollock, slapping it about all over the place and rolling around in it. There’s a place for both and Sinclair seems an ideal candidate for the replacements bench at the moment. Good to see him back.
Kimpioka missed a clear chance from almost point blank range, managing to sidefoot the ball over the bar when it looked harder to miss than score and the game meandered to a goalless draw. Some of the 7,644 crowd (which included 21 Stokies) went home not realising that if there is a “u” in the name of the day of the week, it goes to penalties whereas if there is a “w” in it, extra time is played. The EFL do make the rules simple for a reason and that is to encourage people to attend these games. I am sure that Max Power was sitting in the stand watching rather than playing and that pushed the attendance up by 1.
On a more serious note, why did we kick off at 7.45 when most of the games in this competition were 7.00 kick offs? Hopefully the Carlisle game next month will revert to the norm and I can be home by 9.30.
The penalties gave Robbin Ruiter a chance to earn some glory. He saved a penalty at Scunthorpe in pre-season last year which led to being signed and here, he saved two – ironically from Campbell and Souttar, Stoke’s two best players (I don’t include Charlie Adam in that category as he has past form with me i.e. some nasty tackles in the past). The Dutchman also impressed with a good save before half time and some excellent distribution with his feet. McLaughlin, who looked a bit shaky on Saturday, has genuine competition.
Sinclair, McGeouch, O’Nien (he had a tidy game) and Hume converted theirs and we gained the bonus point that sets us on the road to Wembley, although we are a point behind Carlisle who beat Morecambe 3-2 in their opening tie at Brunton Park in front of 1,213.
Not a great game but the company was good and it didn’t rain.
Sometimes we are thankful for small mercies