Development Squads: Do fringe first team players hold back the youngsters who should be playing?
(Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Hull City U23 got their first Professional Development League season win last night against Millwall U23 at the LNER Community Stadium.  It was a well deserved victory in the end, with first team coach Grant McCann in the dug out for the first half and in the stands for the second, offering advice and tips to Development Coach Andy Dawson

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  • Hull City U23 3-1 Millwall U23

City had the better of the first half but went in at half time 0-1 down. A clumsy trip from Harry Wood saw Millwall score from the spot against the run of play, but the second half saw City get back into the game with two penalties of their own. 

A deliberate handball on the line for the first saw Millwall down to ten men and after Joshua Hinds was scythed down soon after, Wood atoned for his first half error by dispatching both penalties with ease. 

Will Jarvis added a third in stoppage time to put the result beyond doubt as Hull City’s experience - and Millwall’s inexperience - shone through on both accounts. 

City arguably had four full first team players in the starting XI and all of them played the full 90 minutes, so in some senses the result was never going to be in doubt with the talent that was playing. However, is this a good thing?

  • Is having first teamers in an U23 team a blessing or a curse?

The fact that players over the age of 21 can play in the Professional Development League has it’s uses. Tom Huddlestone, Andy Cannon and Shaun McLoughlin, for example, are first team players who have found game time hard to come by for a variety of reasons. Brandon Fleming falls into this too, but is still 20 years old (therefore being discounted from the first team rule). 

However, these three experienced players - whilst getting viral minutes under their belts now City do not have a cup competition to play in outside of the Championship competition - started ahead of youngsters who arguably need the playing time more. 

McCauley Snelgrove, Harry Lovick, Tom Nixon and Louis Beckett were all on the bench after the first two players massively impressed against Queens Park Rangers last week in the second half - both scoring in the late 3-4 defeat. 

Snelgrove came on in the second half and played well as part of the front three - allowing Hinds to shine on the left hand side. Lovick, however - my personal man of the match against QPR - didn’t even get any playing time against Millwall as he wasn’t one of the three substitutes chosen to come on.

This was a tremendous shame as he was one of the players I was looking forward to seeing play in the flesh - and I felt for him left sitting on the bench. Olly Green - who looked very good despite being played out of position on the right hand side - only lasted 45 minutes after a knock to his elbow, and Jake Leake too came off at half time, with all the first team players getting 90 minutes.

  • Why is this happening?

One particular reason why those first team players who were short of match fitness took the places of the U23 players last night was the defeat to Wigan Athletic in the Carabao Cup. Whilst many fans will claim that they ‘don’t care’ about the competition - and we can lump in the Papa John’s Trophy with that too from last season - it is actually one I feel is incredibly important. 

Not only do these competitions give experienced players an opportunity to stake their claim for a first team place, it also allows the youth an opportunity to make their first team debuts. Players like Will Jarvis, Olly Green, Harry Wood, Matty Jacob - now on loan at Gateshead - were all named in the first team squad against Wigan in Round One only to be sent out on penalties.

The damage to the team is two fold. Not only does being out the Carabao Cup deny the young players their chance of first team football, it also blocks them from making appearances for the development squad. Players like Huddlestone, McLoughlin and Cannon are players that need the game time, but now get it in the U23 team to the detriment of their own young team mates. 

It’s a double edged sword, that’s for sure. Being out of the cup competitions allows focus on the league, but personally I think they are more important now than they ever have been - particularly with a squad under the strains that Hull City currently have, with the EFL Embargo and the injuries they are suffering right now. 

  • What should be done?

Let’s hope that in the upcoming games for the Development League, the majority of the players getting game time are the ones that really need it - those lads desperately trying to impress to get their first professional deals, or get their next one. 

The club’s Academy has done a terrific job over the last few years in developing the next generation of talent, and it would be a shame to take their opportunity to impress away for the benefit of first team players that - in truth - may not have a long term future at the club.