1 December 2012

2012 Victory Shield review

The Victory Shield under-16s tournament is over for another year, and once again, it is England who have come out on top.

Kenny Swain has continued his record of winning the Shield in every year that he has managed the England schoolboys. The young Lions were unstoppable, as they won all three of their matches and didn't concede a goal in the process. Only a hailstorm in Port Talbot caused them any concern!

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also played their part, but all three sides must up their game if they are to take the Shield away from their big brother in 2013.

Today, I look back at this year's Victory Shield, giving the teams their end-of-term reports and highlighting some star pupils from the class of 2012.

Final table

End-of-term report
ENGLAND: England have so much depth in talent compared to the other teams, and that showed, as Kenny Swain's young Lions looked by far the best side. They used a total of 35 players, but still cantered to the title with seven goals scored and none conceded. They set their stool out with a five-goal thrashing of Northern Ireland, and although they looked nervy in the first halves against Wales and Scotland, they eventually got the crucial winning goals in those matches. A
NORTHERN IRELAND: It didn't look good for NI when they conceded five goals to England, but credit to Desi Curry for rebuilding the team's confidence. A tremendous fightback from 1-0 down against the Scots saw them pick up three points, and in their final game, they conceded the first goal again to Wales but still managed to scrape home with a point. Although defensively they looked vulnerable, they achieved their best Shield finish for five years. B+
SCOTLAND: Mark Wotte will be encouraged by his first season as Scotland Under-16s coach. The Dutchman built a team with a solid defence that went unchanged throughout the tournament, and a fierce attack that created plenty of chances for themselves. The Tartan Army were too strong for Wales, and looked like strong title challengers, but then they snatched defeats against Northern Ireland and England from good positions. B
WALES: The emergence of wingers Danny Byrnes and Daniel James was the only highlight for an otherwise disappointing Wales team. Osian Roberts' men fought bravely against Scotland and England, but failed to get anything from those games, and a poor second half against Northern Ireland cost them a victory. In the end, their failure to take good scoring opportunities saw them finish bottom of the table. C-

Robbie McCrorie: TDTR Player of the Tournament.
Star pupils
For most of the players in this year's Victory Shield, this will be the highlight of their careers. Some of the others will continue playing for their countries at the higher age groups. A few will earn the distinction of representing the national team at senior level. I've picked out five players who I expect to fit into the latter category:

The Hull City forward started all of Wales' matches, and he was always a threat down the flanks. Had his crosses been met by a more prolific striker, the Dragons might not have finished bottom.
STEPHEN FALLON (Northern Ireland)
Northern Ireland's team performed better than the sum of its parts, but Fallon perhaps caught the eye more than any of their other players. The St Oliver Plunkett forward scored the winner against Scotland and looked impressive again at home to Wales. It wouldn't surprise me if he was at an English Football League club at this time next year.
A few years ago, we saw Danny Welbeck in this competition, and now another Manchester United striker has made his mark on the Victory Shield. This talented youngster seems very confident and ambitious, and that was evident when he scored a wonderful goal against Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope, though, that he doesn't turn out to be another Ravel Morrison.
Middlesbrough midfielder Cooke was the only player to score twice in this year's Victory Shield. Those goals came as a substitute against Northern Ireland, and his supersub reputation was enhanced when he created the Shield-winning goal versus Scotland. Expect this Boro academy pupil to play for the first-team at some point within the next 12-18 months.
It's surprising that my Player of the Tournament comes from a team that only finished 3rd, but McCrorie deserves that honour. In two games against Wales and England, the Rangers goalkeeper was superb, making save after save, and showing great confidence and maturity for a 14-year-old. In my opinion, he's the best keeper I've seen come through the Victory Shield, and it's no surprise that the Manchester clubs are chasing his signature. Mark my words, he's a future number 1 for club and country.

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