Latics’ talent pool dilemma
Date published: 13 December 2012
TEENAGE KICKS . . . Chris Sutherland is one of several young players given his chance this season.
Club needs to find a way to let potential bloom
OUT in the cold figuratively and literally, young trio Dan Taylor, Kirk Millar and Carl Winchester watched impassively from seats above the dug-out as Athletic’s matchday squad warmed up before the game at Colchester.
None had been selected, even as a substitute. Athletic were on a good run, having just breezed past Doncaster in a big FA Cup tie and welcomed back an experienced player in Cliff Byrne from suspension to the bench. It was difficult to argue with manager Paul Dickov’s selected 18.
All that was left for the trio to do was wrap up warm, take in the game and await the long journey back home. For the trio and others like them, it has been a familiar routine this season.
Only James Tarkowski has been anything like a regular in the side among players who have learned their trade under youth-team boss Tony Philliskirk at Boundary Park.
Winchester has made two starts. So promising on the last day of 2011-12 in a central midfield role against Carlisle, the inconsistent but talented Belfast teenager has appeared once as a substitute since his catastrophic back-pass header at Chesterfield in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
That brief showing was in the 4-1 defeat at Bournemouth, where his frustration shone through via an uncharacteristic late booking for dissent.
Millar has only non-playing substitute roles to his name in 2012-13. Along with David Mellor, he recently spent time out on loan to get first-team minutes under his belt at Chorley FC in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
Millar has slipped well down the winger pecking order and Mellor finds Jonathan Grounds and Connor Brown ahead of him in the left-back queue.
It is a fall from grace that wasn’t in the script. The former Manchester United academy man started 20 times last season; this season he has come off the bench once.
A hat-trick in the reserves two weeks ago hasn’t propelled Taylor, the summer signing from Newcastle, much closer to a first-team chance. Dickov asks for patience.
Cast against the current success on the field, the current lack of on-field action for Athletic’s young prospects isn’t attracting much attention.
Some of the crop have been given a chance to impress. Chris Sutherland broke through this term to provide an injection of pace as a sub seven times, while Connor Hughes has played five times as a replacement.
Dickov has consistently emphasised the need for young professionals to take charge of their own careers; to present arguments for inclusion that can’t be denied - rather than just being happy with a cameo appearance here and there.
Athletic’s manager wants his teenagers to become men; to learn to ride the hard knocks, to play with confidence, to work on physique and improve where fitness is a concern.
But with the financial difficulties of life in League One highlighted this week, ultimately the way forward for clubs of Athletic’s stature is in selling players reared cheaply for big money.
Athletic need to find a way of developing potential, and from there, hard cash — just as with the likes of Neal Eardley.
The £300,000 offered by Fulham for Mellor and Winchester last season, which was turned down in the hope of larger riches, won’t be repeated if travelling scouts only see Athletic’s finest youngsters twiddling their thumbs in the main stand.