THE transformation of the U’s first team into a side based upon Academy graduates is happening week by week, so smoothly that it is easy to overlook.
In the three League games played so far, Alex Gilbey, Drey Wright, Sammie Szmodics and Frankie Kent have all played their part, and where these four have led, others will soon be ready to follow. Macauley Bonne, Michael O’Donoghue and Jack Curtis are on or around the bench, and more of the next generation will soon be pushing at the door.
Alex Gilbey is leading the charge for the youngsters, enjoying a fine start to the season, and relishing his partnership with George Moncur.
At Notts County on Tuesday Alex was very influential in dictating the tempo and direction of our play when in possession, whilst sweating blood in his defensive tasks. On and off the ball it was a mature performance.
Naturally, U’s fans still talk of the Championship team of 2006/7 which finished tenth and was in the running for the play-offs until the very death, but the current generation of fans are finding new heroes.
Bonne instead of Iwelumo, Gilbey instead of Kevin Watson, Sammie Szmodics instead of Cureton, and so on. Make your own comparisons, but make allowance for age because the current crop really are kids in comparison.
The fixture list has dealt the U’s a tough schedule for August and September, so it was a setback that we didn’t capitalise on our opportunities at Notts County on Tuesday night.
I watched Notts several times late last season, fascinated by a Great Escape built upon Bialkowski between the sticks, Alan Sheehan roaring them on from central defence, and Jimmy Spencer leading the attack.
Financial reality has struck. Bialkowski and Sheehan departed for better money, then Spencer was injured in the first pre-season friendly, and will miss the season. Manager Shaun Derry has managed a reported budget cut of 30 per cent and the backbone of last season’s team has gone.
Where are they in comparison to the U’s? Struggling, I would say, 18 months behind us, and the good fortune they enjoyed on Tuesday cannot disguise that.
The reality of existence in League One is a story of teams who are funded to make an assault on the top of the table, Bristol City, Sheffield United, Peterborough etc, and the rest who make their own way, innovating and developing, such as ourselves and Notts County.
Joe Dunne has said that he expects the League to divide in half as the season progresses, and you can see why.
The over-achievers from the humbler clubs will be those with the spirit and character, who work harder and plan harder than the rest, with their fans behind them. Which is exactly where we have positioned ourselves since John Ward left the club.
Are we in a position to attack the top half of the table? Undoubtedly, and Tuesday was definite proof, despite the result.