Spotlight on youngsters

DAVID CUFFLEY One of the big questions exercising City manager Peter Grant's mind ahead of today's Championship home game against Sheffield Wednesday was whether to keep faith with Michael Spillane and Rossi Jarvis after their impressive performances in the Carling Cup at Manchester City.


One of the big questions exercising City manager Peter Grant's mind ahead of today's Championship home game against Sheffield Wednesday was whether to keep faith with Michael Spillane and Rossi Jarvis after their impressive performances in the Carling Cup at Manchester City.

For 19-year-old Jarvis, it was - some would say remarkably - the first time he had appeared in the first team since Grant arrived as manager nearly 12 months ago.

For 18-year-old Spillane, whose 11 previous senior appearances for City had included last season's East Anglian derby at Carrow Road, plus two outings at Hillsborough against today's opponents, it was another attempt to force his way into Championship football on a regular basis.

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Grant's predecessor, Nigel Worthington, was often accused of not having enough faith in his young players, with Rossi's brother, Ryan, and Ian Henderson among those who flitted in and out of his plans, while others were discarded completely.

Last season, Grant played a string of teenagers as injuries took their toll, especially in the second half of the season - Spillane, Robert Eagle, Kris Renton and Bally Smart - while Andrew Cave-Brown and Patrick Bexfield appeared on the bench. He uncovered one particular gem in Chris Martin, and the 18-year-old striker was soon rewarded with a long-term contact with the Canaries.

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But Grant often suggested it was a case of needs must, a line of thinking that seems to have been confirmed by Martin's virtual absence from the first team this season. Before today, he had made just one start, in the Carling Cup at Rochdale, and two second-half appearances as a substitute in the 10 matches played in all competitions.

The subject came up at Grant's weekly Press conference at Colney when he was asked about the chances of Spillane and Jarvis appearing again - and the mystery of the missing Martin.

He said: “I had said to both Michael and Rossi two or three weeks ago to be ready because it was getting to that stage where I felt as if they could offer me something that I wasn't being offered on the pitch.

“Sometimes it's important with the timing of it for them - if you put them all in together when you are not playing as well and as fluent as you would like, sometimes it becomes a little bit more difficult for them and then they get judged on their performances and it is not necessarily them.

“I feel in the middle of the pitch I have not had the right balance. I genuinely feel that we have not taken care enough on the ball, and I thought the other evening we did that very well and both the boys were a big, big part of that.

“I know they are comfortable in possession, but the biggest thing for me is making sure the team is right.

“They were playing the game because I know at the next level you have to be comfortable on the ball and both of them are that. So I was very, very pleased with them - but yet again, Sheffield Wednesday is a different game and that is the way I look at every game, individually, and assess what we have got available and pick the best team for that particular game.”

On Martin, he insisted: “There's plenty of room for Chris. There's no doubt about his talent. Sometimes people have to understand it's not the fact of somebody not playing well. Sometimes it's the set-up of the team. I've had to manoeuvre the team in different set-ups because of injuries.

“There's no doubt he's got talent. He's got a big, big part to play. It's not down to the fact that he's not doing well. It's down to circumstances.

“Chris is very much in my thoughts to play. Sometimes the circumstances dictated he's been the one to miss out, unfortunately for him. It's not down to his performance. He's been training very well. Some of the things he's been doing in training have been excellent.”

Martin's brief appearance at Wolves last Saturday was his first in the Championship this season but he was back on the bench on Tuesday night and that's where he stayed.

Spillane, meanwhile, without blowing his own trumpet, suggested he had been impatient for the call.

“I personally feel I am ready and feel I have been ready for a little while. It is just up to the manager and coaches if they put me in,” he said.

His performance drew praise from team-mates David Marshall and Lee Croft, both of whom were blooded by their previous clubs as raw youngsters.

The days seem long gone when City put faith in their teenagers as a matter of course and benefited from the rapid development of players such as Justin Fashanu, Mark Barham, Dale Gordon, Ruel Fox, Chris Sutton, Darren Eadie and Craig Bellamy.

But judging by this week's financial statement from Carrow Road, they may have little choice from now on.

Ten teenage dream debuts

Clive Payne (aged 18 v Ipswich, Sept 3, 1968): Full-back Payne was one of three teenagers to feature in a memorable 4-2 League Cup win over newly-promoted Town at Portman Road, when Hugh Curran scored a hat-trick for the Canaries.

Billy Steele (aged 18 v Ipswich, Dec 26, 1973): A surprise Boxing Day derby debutant in John Bond's fourth game in charge, Scottish youngster Steele's thunderous shot rebounded off the bar for Ted MacDougall to give City the lead. Alas, Town hit back for a 2-1 away win.

Phil Lythgoe (aged 18 v Manchester City, Jan 21, 1978): Match of the Day cameras captured winger Lythgoe's first outing in place of the injured Jimmy Neighbour, but a promising display could not prevent a 3-1 home defeat, City's first of the season.

Justin Fashanu (aged 17 v West Bromwich Albion, Jan 13, 1979): Another Match of the Day baptism as the aggressive centre-forward made his presence felt against Ron Atkinson's Albion in a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road.

Dave Bennett (aged 19 v Manchester United, Sept 26, 1979): With just one substitute's appearance under his belt, former Manchester City apprentice Bennett was handed his full debut in the League Cup against United and scored in a 4-1 home victory.

Louie Donowa (aged 19 v Manchester United, Oct 3, 1983): After two brief outings as substitute, Donowa marked his first full game for City with a dramatic last-minute equaliser as they fought back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3.

Robert Rosario (aged 18 v Watford, April 7, 1984): Signed from Hillingdon Borough, Rosario was given his first senior game against the Hornets, with whom he had previously spent two months on trial. John Deehan scored four times in a 6-1 City home win.

Dale Gordon (aged 17 v Liverpool, Aug 25, 1984): Caister-born winger Gordon tormented international full-back Alan Kennedy with a brilliant debut performance at Carrow Road as City secured a 3-3 draw with a last-minute Mike Channon penalty.

Andy Marshall (aged 19 v Newcastle, Dec 31, 1994): Four days after his first outing as a substitute for the badly injured Bryan Gunn, Marshall was handed his full Premiership debut, defying Kevin Keegan's Newcastle as the Canaries won 2-1.

Ryan Jarvis (aged 16 v Wolves, Apr 21, 2003): Two days after a record-breaking first appearance as a substitute at Walsall, Jarvis became a TV star, his confident full debut the one bright spot in a 3-0 home defeat that ended City's play-off hopes. He played in another televised game at Leicester six days later - the last time he started two successive league games for Norwich.

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