Youngster Clarke Getting Better and Better
Tuesday, 14th Jan 2014 06:06
Boss Mick McCarthy says youngster Matt Clarke is looking more and more comfortable training with the first team, despite having had a nervous start early in the season. The 17-year-old central midfielder or defender is in the Town squad for this evening’s FA Cup third round replay at Preston, along with fellow academy scholars Byron Lawrence and Kyle Hammond.
Barham-based Clarke, who underwent the now traditional initiation of singing a song in front of the rest of the squad at the hotel last night, is a first-year scholar who broke into the U21s last season while still a pupil at Claydon High School.
“Young Matt Clarke is a kid who came across [to train with the first team],” said McCarthy.
“He trained on the main pitch when we had the open day and he was so nervous, he was like a kitten who had stuck his head into Battersea Dogs’ home!
“He was a bag of nerves when he came and trained with us. At his own level he does really well, he plays centre-half, he plays in midfield and I looked at him and just thought that he is worth taking with us. It’ll do him a bit of good.
“I’m not suggesting for one minute I’m going to stick him on the field, but I might have to. I’ve got two defenders injured. He can play there. He’s coming with us.
“I can just see him getting better and better. They all like him in the academy and he’s blossoming, he’s maturing. He’s travelling with us, whether he gets to be involved or not, we’ll see.”
Midfielder Lawrence, also 17, had a taste of first team action when he came on as a sub at Doncaster on the final day of the 2011/12 season, while 18-year-old right-back Kyle Hammond, like Lawrence a second-year scholar, has been in and around the first team squad since pre-season but without making his senior debut so far.
McCarthy has been impressed by the duo: “I like their attitude to it as much as anything. They can obviously play or they wouldn’t be here or around the squad and in the U21s, but their attitude towards it has been great.
“They’re both really good professionals and both pushing, both want to be players. And let’s hope they turn out that way for Ipswich."
Could Hammond, an ex-Westbourne High School pupil, make his debut at Deepdale? “We’ll see about that. Carlos can play at right-back, of course, and I want to play as strong a team as I possibly can.”
The Town boss says academy players regularly join in with his senior squad in training: “That happens all the time, that’s not just now. If I need more than the squad that I’ve got I just take them out of the academy, out of Mark Kennedy’s U21s.
“They get to train with us regularly and if the first team have played, the ones who haven’t played train with the U21s anyway. It’s not just a one-off.”
He says he learns a lot about the youngsters when they’re up against more senior players: “Of course. As I said, Matt Clarke, one of the first times I saw him play he was really, really nervous and didn’t look up to it, but he’s gradually progressed.
“You try not to make judgements on them too soon. You realise that they’re coming through, they’re young lads and they’re training with the first teamers, who are bigger, quicker, stronger, fitter, better.
“You keep seeing them make progress, and he has. And certainly Kyle has. Kyle and Byron are doing well.”
With the Blues’ youth set-up moving to category one status next season, the club has set a target of having academy players making up half the squad by 2017/18.
In the shorter term, McCarthy will be happy to see a couple become regular members of his squad: “It’ll be interesting to see whether we get 50 per cent in the team, but it would be nice. The academy are working night and day to get them through.
“I do think with academies it’s cyclical. If you think about Manchester United winning the FA Youth Cup and all those players that came through, it happened with Manchester City when I was there.
“I don’t know how often you get a real crop of them coming through. If we can get one or two of them in and around the first team this year, I’ll be delighted.”
Meanwhile, what's likely to be a very young Town U21 side is in action against Brentford at Playford Road this afternoon (KO 1pm).
Photo: Action Images
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