Brian Carey was right to urge caution after the fine victory at Port Vale on Tuesday; after all, one swallow doesn't make a Summer, and smashing Sheffield Wednesday at the same stage last season hardly led to great things did it? But it was great wasn't it?
The greatest delight of it was its unexpected nature. It looked a tough task anyway, but when I saw that Carey had picked Michael Jones in goal and Levi Mackin in midfield it was clear where his priorities lie. Or so I thought.
Both youngsters have been rotting in the reserves over the last season and were in need of a boost, but giving them one by throwing them into an away tie against a higher division team looked like putting their interests ahead of the team. They emphatically proved that to not be the case.
The important thing with Jones is to remember how young he is-just nineteen. Goalkeepers are generally thought to mature in their thirties, so he's still over ten years off his peak! In 2020 he should be pretty tasty! However, goalkeeping is about confidence, and nurturing young keepers requires careful consideration for the damage a bad experience can inflict. Remember how a traumatic experience at Peterborough destroyed Paul Whitfield? It came hot on the heels of an LDV tie at Stockport in which he conceded five goals, and we never saw him again. Jones let in five at Edgeley Park last season as well, and his other appearance was in the shock defeat at Newport, so his selection could have backfired. However, it emphatically didn't; two superb second half saves marked a flawless performance, and Jones took a major step forward in the maturing process.
Mackin is also an interesting case. It's four seasons now since he made his debut, and a lot of fans feel that he hasn't kicked on from a promising start. This season might well be make-or-break for him, and rotting in the reserves is hardly a recipe for success. However, Tuesday showed that this might just be his year! He was energetic and, after looking a bit tentative in the first half, really grew into the match. His passing got crisper and he started getting his head up and playing ambitious balls over the top to the nippy forwards who turned the game in our favour.
It's a question of confidence with Mackin, I suspect. Sometimes when a young lad is new to the scene it's hard to push himself forwards and take a leading role. As the tie wore on, Mackin did exactly that, and in doing so finally established himself as a serious option for Carey.
All credit to Carey for seeing that. Obviously a manager gets to see more than us. Sometimes fans get frustrated when a player is persevered with despite a lack of success in the first team, but remember that the coaching staff will get the full picture on them. Performances in training and the reserves might mark a player out as having something which those who just watch the first team haven't seen. On the other hand, you might argue that if a player doesn't deliver in the first team, then there's no point in waiting for it to happen. I remember a lad I played with who, in training, was one of the most gifted players in a strong side. However, in matches he went to pieces and the creative flair he undoubtedly had was completely obscured. Eventually giving him games in all sorts of outlandish positions in the hope that he would settle, he was reluctantly jettisoned. Thankfully, Mackin responded the other way, and as a result has just given his career a huge boost, and Brian Carey an extra option.