Woosie's Words: Palace youngsters have the talent to break into the first team

Sullay Kaikai

Sullay Kaikai

First published in Sport
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Jason Puncheon seemed to want to take a step back to school and learn about science as he stepped up and fired a seventh minute penalty into space on Saturday as Palace fell to a defeat against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

The winger lacked conviction as he changed his mind as to where to place the spot kick, and it arguably cost Palace dearly as they suffered another Premier League defeat. The first team were not the only ones to follow up a victory in their previous match with a defeat as the Development squad were cruelly denied a point in Wales on Monday night by a stoppage time winner from £8m man Cornelius.

The U21 side had been unbeaten in their previous four matches and their run of form looked set to continue as Sullay KaiKai continued his extraordinary run of form by notching his 11th goal in eigh matches to put the Eagles ahead; before Cardiff found and equaliser a minute into the second half, and Cornelius earned the Welsh side all three points in the second of three minutes of stoppage time.

It was a blow to a Palace side without a number of regular players after boss Tony Pulis decided that first team experience out on loan would benefit the club’s youngsters far more than playing in the development squad.

One man who must surely be in demand should Pulis not see his immediate future in the Eagles’ first team, is KaiKai who recently signed a long term deal with the club. The forward was named in the squad to travel to Norwich over the festive period but has yet to make a first team appearance for the club.

Of those who have already taken the opportunity to gain some experience in the lower leagues, or indeed, non-league, David Gregory and Ryan Inniss are most notable. Gregory, alongside defender Alex Wynter, has joined Sutton United and made a couple of good saves to ensure a clean sheet on his debut.

The ‘keeper has begun to show the potential that saw him catch the eye in Palace’s U16 side, and a loan deal will only help him progress further, with the aim being to emulate Hiram Boateng and Jonny Williams in breaking into the first team at Selhurst Park. Centre-back Ryan Inniss had a spell at Cheltenham Town cut short due to injury earlier in the season but marked his Luton Town debut by etching his name onto the scoreboard in their victory.

Meanwhile, centre-forward Derek Tieku has joined Hayes and Yeading for a month. The forward joined from Fulham last season and although yet to make a significant impact in the U21 side, his strength and ability to hold the ball up well could see him do well at that level. Ross Fitzsimons has joined Hendon, whilst Jerome Williams is one to keep an eye on at Forest Green Rovers.

The England U19 international left-back is superb going forward and his pace is a real asset that helps him to get involved in attacks; although the defensive side of his game suffers a little from his exuberance, first team football should help him to prioritise and establish a balance. Finally, Kyle de Silva has been training with Northampton Town with a view to going on loan. The midfielder who can play centrally or on the wing has made a number of first team appearances for Palace, but injuries have hampered his progress.

Boateng and KaiKai have been the stand out performers for the U21 side this season with their sterling efforts not going unnoticed by the Palace hierarchy. Indeed, it was Boateng who played a significant role at the Hawthorns as the Eagles booked a place in the FA Cup fourth round, as he grabbed an assist for Dwight Gayle’s excellent finish.

It is difficult to assess whether a player is better served by a spell away from their parent club or whether remaining in the development squad would enable them to progress more rapidly; but ultimately there is never really a substitute for first-team experience in football.

Palace only compete in the Premier Division League 2 South, which means that the youngsters are facing the likes of Barnet and Millwall; a far cry from travelling to stadiums such as Old Trafford and playing against the very best in the country. Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that first team football would be a more suitable experience for them, gaining a feel for the atmosphere of a real competitive match in front of thousands of spectators, in matches that truly mean something.

It will not be long before KaiKai and Boateng are both regulars in the Palace first team, whilst there is almost certainly one youngster who will follow in KaiKai’s footsteps in the next two or three years to sign a long term professional contract with the club.

The youngster, who I won't name has the potential to be our best academy product ever; but for now it is important to focus on the achievements of those who have their contracts and see how they progress.

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