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Comment: Immediate demands at West Brom restricting league minutes for academy products

By Matt Wilson | West Bromwich Albion | Published:

Anyone who has seen Kyle Edwards play this season would agree the 20-year-old has been an encouraging breath of fresh air.

Kyle Edwards has impressed in the Carabao Cup.

An eye-catching pre-season has been backed up by impressive performances in the Carabao Cup and last Saturday, he rose to the challenge of the Championship in a 28-minute cameo at wing-back.

But those were his first league minutes of the season, and they are by far the most any of Albion’s academy graduates have played.

Sam Field has just four minutes in the Championship so far, while Jonathan Leko and Rekeem Harper are yet to feature.

When Darren Moore was appointed, it was seen as an encouraging sign for the club’s youngsters because he was a man who knew the academy inside out.

The Championship, with its extra games and lower quality, was also championed as a more welcoming stage for youth.

But Albion’s head coach has preferred experience so far, and signing free agents Tyrone Mears, 35, Wes Hoolahan, 36, and Bakary Sako, 30, suggests he has more faith in older heads.

The average age of his players this season is 27.9, which is the third-highest in the league behind Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City.

After an impressive and goal-laden start to the season, it would be churlish to criticise, but there’s no denying Albion’s promising academy products are currently struggling to break through.

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It is a catch-22 that is hardly unique to this club. These days, few managers are afforded the time it takes to blood youngsters.

Patience is an increasingly rare commodity in our immediate society ran on immediate technology.

As the football news cycle increases in pace, that old adage that ‘you’re only as good as your last game’ becomes worryingly true.

In two of the last four seasons, the average lifespan of managers in the Championship has been under a year.

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Sam Field looked like Albion's future last season but has only played four minutes in the league this term. (AMA)

There are others in this league who are blooding their youngsters successfully. But the situation at Albion for Moore lends itself to short-termism.

This season offers the Baggies the best opportunity to get back up to the Premier League because of their superior squad and financial clout compared to the rest of the Championship.

Next season both of those upper-hands will dwindle, and the season after that they will fall even further. Part of the reason the youngsters are not playing is because of the strength of the starting XI ahead of them.

On top of that is the fact Moore is only just starting out on his managerial journey, he did not have the credit in the bank other experienced coaches have built up over time.

He had to hit the ground running. He couldn’t pick youngsters with a view to developing them over the course of six months, because he may not last six months.

In those circumstances the old adage; ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ also works the other way.

And when these youngsters are stacked up against their experienced counterparts, rightly or wrongly they are coming up short in the manager’s eye.

Moore has defended his limited use of youth in the league, by pointing out they have all been given chances in the Carabao Cup.

“I’ve played them this season and included them in the squad,” he said. “Kyle Edwards, Jonathan Leko, Sam Field, young Tosin Adarabioyo and we’ve even had Morgan Rogers (16) on the bench.

“They’re all good players and they’re all good enough to play here at West Brom. I’ve identified that. There’s a blend of youth and experience in this team.”

His greatest defence, though, has been the first team’s results. Albion are on an unbeaten seven-match run in the league and sit second in the table.

But the lack of competitive league minutes for the club’s own youngsters is worrying.

Edwards leapfrogged his peers thanks to his loan spell at League Two Exeter City last season.

Defender Jack Fitzwater, meanwhile, is taking huge strides on loan at Walsall, where he has played every minute of all of their 16 games so far.

By contrast, there should be concerns Field, the graceful midfielder who looked like Albion’s future last season, will stagnate without games.

Field has been refused loans away three windows in a row, and he’s still struggling for minutes.

He’s only made two tiny cameo appearances off the bench in the Championship this season, and in the Carabao Cup, he’s been shunted to left centre-back as an experiment because of Albion’s lack of defensive options.

Just like his selection decisions, Moore has to be selfish in the window and look after the depth of his squad.

Gareth Barry is 37, and is already being rotated with Chris Brunt in central midfield. Albion are only one or two injuries away from Field starting.

But if he doesn’t get the minutes he needs, it would be understandable for him, or any youngster, to begin looking elsewhere.

There have been limited chances in the league so far, but when they do crop up, these youngsters need to take them.

Edwards took his chance on Saturday, and emerged as a credible alternative to Mears as Matt Phillips’s understudy.

He's doing everything he can to force his way into contention but whether that changes his position in Moore’s pecking order remains to be seen.

Matt Wilson

By Matt Wilson
Football MMPJ - @mattwilson_star

Sports reporter at the Express & Star, who primarily covers West Bromwich Albion.

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