St Albans City put youth on show against Crystal Palace XI

Jack Green heads powerfully towards goal. Picture: Leigh Page

Jack Green heads powerfully towards goal. Picture: Leigh Page - Credit: Archant

Youth was the main focus of Tuesday’s 1-1 pre-season friendly draw with a Crystal Palace XI.

The Eagles had three internationals in an otherwise inexperienced team, and the Saints, too, opted for youth, with six former St Albans City Youth players getting the call.

Jack Green, who has clearly been at the gym over the summer, was City’s most notable youth product, and he continued his ascendency at the club by prodding home the opening goal after 80 seconds.

The other youngsters came on in the second half. Jordy Ndjeka made his second pre-season appearance of the summer, while Alex Yearwood, Hafid Bounyafe, Oran Swales, and Gerardo Smaldone all made cameos in the last 15 minutes.

Smaldone’s introduction was a particularly great moment from the club, and one owner Lawrence Levy was thrilled about, because he has been with St Albans City Youth since U8.

More importantly, however, is that none of them looked out of place on the pitch or got exposed by their Premier League counterparts.

“It was a good chance to see the young boys and I’m pleased with their performances,” said joint manager James Gray.

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“Every one of them did themselves proud. Mark Swales [reserve manager] will get some good boys coming through and hopefully we can utilise that and get them through to the first team again.”

As former youth team managers, Gray and Graham Golds, City’s other joint manager, have long spoken about their desire to create a pathway from youth to men’s football.

James Kaloczi, Matt Taylor and Elliot Bailey were the first in the Gray-Golds era but they have all since left the club after varying degrees of success.

Tuesday night’s match was proof that the managers are determined to stick to their principles, although Gray admitted breaking young players into the first team will be more difficult than previously.

“We want to bring a few through like we did with James, Matt and Elliot when we first got here,” said Gray.

“The difference being now that [we’re in the National League South rather than the Southern League].To bridge that gap is difficult.”

Still, if Tuesday’s cameo if anything to go by, the next batch of youth players to break through is coming sooner rather than later.