Last Friday night, Norwich Under-18s entertained Leeds in the FA Youth Cup. For the majority of the team, this was their first time playing at Carrow Road in front of a crowd, which was surprising as there are second-year scholars who haven’t yet had that experience – Alfie Pinyoun being a prime example.
During the opening passages of the game, City failed to settle with many nervy challenges and passes. Leeds had total control of the ball and looked much more convincing with it, which was rewarded went they went ahead after four minutes through Marley Wilson.
The sloppy start can be justified due to so few of the City team having played at Carrow Road before, and they found it difficult to build any passing patterns in midfield with the ball constantly going back to Leeds.
Greg Crane spoke to @norwichyouth after the game and shared the sentiment that the players found it challenging at the start:
“First twenty I wasn’t too happy at all, I felt the players were hiding a little bit, to get on the ball. When we settled down and took in the atmosphere, we slowly started to build up. We had a couple of moments in the first half, but we played better in the second.”
One player for Leeds who was exceptional on the night, was 17-year-old Welsh international, Charlie Crew, who dictated proceedings centrally, driving through the Norwich midfield, as well as playing through balls in behind the City defence.
But City had a standout player in the form of their own Welsh international, Elliot Myles. Myles has accumulated 10 G/A for the U18s this season and was desperately unlucky not to add to that tally having had numerous chances on goal.
Elliot has been known this season for being ‘proactive’ and this was the case on Friday night as he drove up the pitch with ease. He was sensational at beating his man with sheer space and skill, which gave City many opportunities to advance in the final third.
He executed these powerful runs throughout the match, beating players with ease, while highlighting his longevity to do it across ninety minutes. He also showed a tendency to drift infield onto his right foot, which allowed him to assess his options in the final third.
Another noticeable trait of his game on Friday night was the outstanding level of composure he showed, with him playing an extra measured pass instead of shooting from an acute angle, and his execution of defence-splitting passes for his teammates.
Elliot Myles was the best NCFC player on the night. Credit: Norwich City
There were scenarios during the match where the U18s played it through to Myles instead of playing a more progressive option, underlining their faith in him to produce something special. An example of this came in the second half when Uriah Djedje carried the ball well into the Leeds attacking third but opted to play Elliot on his left while ignoring a more proactive option on his right.
Overall, Myles has been the talismanic figure for the U18s this season, scoring six goals, more than any U18s player. His natural progression should be Under-21s football, which will be likely due to the U21s playing 15+ games between January and April.
Another player who isn’t far behind Myles’ goalscoring numbers for the U18s is Errol Mundle-Smith, who has scored five goals this season, as well as contributing with two assists. But the game last Friday summed up what he has had to contend with all season – a lack of service in forward areas and feeding off scraps.
@norwichyouth questioned Greg Crane on Errol’s progress, who was impressed with where he’s come, especially as the club signed him from a college programme, earlier in the season:
“I’ve been really happy with Errol’s progression, he’s come off a college programme in London, and what he’s done to date is really pleasing. He’s added an extra edge, and a different element to his game, which is good to see. I’ve been really pleased with his development so far, and, hopefully, towards the back end of the season, he can challenge to get into the U21s team.”
One thing that remains consistent with Errol, which was represented on Friday night is his technical ability under pressure. With Leeds being intense with their press, EMS encountered many difficult situations, in which he had to hold onto the ball, to progress the team up the field. Errol’s first touch and close ball control was particularly impressive.
Errol Mundle-Smith in action against Leeds in the FA Youth Cup. Credit: Norwich City.
As the second half almost ticked over to the halfway point, Caleb Ansen had to make two huge saves to keep the scoreline at a respectable level – one of them a brilliant reflex save to deny the Leeds striker scoring from a fierce volley. Ansen was also a vocal member of the U18s backline, talking his defence through the game.
Ansen spoke to @norwichyouth after the game and was pleased with the development he’s shown this season:
“It’s been an up and down season, but for me personally, I think I’ve developed a lot. You can see results haven’t gone our way, meaning it gives me a lot of action to deal with, therefore meaning I’m learning every day.”
One player who added life to the Canaries on Friday was first-year scholar LaSean Sealey, who made a big impact off the bench. Sealey had a great November, scoring two late goals off the bench, which highlighted his ability to change games. Although he didn’t score last Friday, LaSean made the team more imposing when he came on due to the natural physicality he possesses.
Sealey was successful at driving at the Leeds defence, causing them problems as he was difficult to nudge off the ball. He played the target man role well in the second half; something Norwich needed from the start as their long balls weren’t connecting to the striker.
Another player to show immense personality during the tie was 16-year-old, Miles Bracking, who was hugely effective at carrying the ball through midfield – a trend that has happened consistently across the season. Last Friday, Bracking demonstrated his effectiveness when playing slightly further forward, as he has tremendous running power to transition from defence to attack.
I questioned Crane on Bracking’s performances this season, and he was satisfied with the scholar’s input, especially as he was out with an injury last year:
“Miles is an interesting one, as he had a bad back injury last season, so he missed a lot of football, which is a key part of his development (between ages 16 and 17). He’s played a lot of games this year, and I’m really pleased with him. I’ve played him in a couple of different positions, one of them being as a defensive midfielder and the other in a more attacking role.
“I think we saw him come into his own in the second half, becoming more confident. He still needs to learn, that he just can’t run with the ball and he needs to find those pictures. He’s working in the Soccerbot a lot of the time, working on that, and it’s a credit to him as he should be happy with his progression.”
Greg then went on to tell me that he would have featured a lot more last season if it wasn’t for that injury, after a particularly impressive performance against Man City.
With some of the U18s players such as Ansen, Djedje and Myles having had their first taste of U21s football already this season, it will be likely that those players plus a few others, will progress up to the U21s side from January as part of their natural progression through the academy.
Thanks for reading our weekly academy updates throughout the season. More to come in 2024. A Happy Christmas to you all.