Idah leads young brigade in FA Cup
A number of teams opted to rotate their starting line-ups for this weekend's FA Cup action and there were plenty of youngsters that seized their chance.
Adam Idah – Norwich
Arguably the performance of the round came from Canaries striker Idah, who scored a hat-trick during his side’s 4-2 victory at Preston – including a stunning long-range effort when Lilywhites goalkeeper Connor Ripley came rushing off his line.
It wasn’t just the goals that underlined Idah’s performance, as he also showed power, pace and confidence well beyond his years, as he does not turn 19 until next month.
The Republic of Ireland youth international’s only previous experience in the first-team had been in Norwich’s shock Carabao Cup defeat to League Two Crawley in August and a very brief cameo in the recent Premier League draw with Crystal Palace.
However, the performance he produced at Deepdale would suggest he could be ready for a more prominent role over the second half of the season and could act as a worthy alternative to Teemu Pukki in the final third.
Curtis Jones – Liverpool
Many people were tipping Everton to end their Anfield hoodoo against Liverpool in Sunday’s Merseyside derby, with Reds boss Jurgen Klopp opting to make nine changes to his starting XI.
One of the players to come into the team was teenage midfielder Jones, who had already impressed in three previous first-team appearances this season, scoring the winning penalty in the Reds’ Carabao Cup success over Arsenal in October.
However, Sunday’s performance topped anything that had come before from Jones, as he stamped his authority on an Everton side that was pretty much at full strength.
It was a man-of-the-match display from Jones even before he curled in the only goal of the contest on 71 minutes – a finish that the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah would have been proud of.
Yasser Larouci – Liverpool
If Jones’ performance was not so much of a surprise, the emergence of left-back Larouci was perhaps not one that Liverpool supporters were expecting.
The Algerian, who only turned 19 on New Year’s Day, had never previously featured for the first-team, even when Klopp opted to play an Under-23s side in the Carabao Cup against Aston Villa, but he was thrust into the action after just nine minutes on Sunday following an injury to James Milner.
Many players would have frozen after being brought on in a big game so unexpectedly, but Larouci did not put a foot wrong, keeping the likes of Theo Walcott and Djibril Sidibe quiet, while also providing an attacking threat which is required of all Liverpool full-backs these days.
William Smallbone – Southampton
Another player making his senior debut in the cup was Saints midfielder Smallbone, who scored the opening goal as the South Coast club claimed a 2-0 victory over Huddersfield at St Mary’s.
Smallbone’s development had previously been hindered by a long-term calf injury, but he produced an accomplished display on the right of Southampton’s midfield, earning praise from boss Ralph Hasenhuttl for his quality on the ball.
The Irish teenager could now be on course for a Premier League debut – he recently featured in the matchday squad against Crystal Palace.
An honourable mention should also go to Saints left-back Jake Vokins, who scored the second goal against Huddersfield – the 19-year-old was only edged out of this list by Smallbone, as he had previously featured at first-team level.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis – Manchester City
The youngest player on this list and it is testament to 17-year-old centre back Harwood-Bellis that Saturday’s match against Port Vale was already his fourth senior appearance in City colours.
The teenager even got on the scoresheet during the 4-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium, but it was the nature of his assured display that particularly caught the eye.
Further appearances are likely to come for Harwood-Bellis as the season develops and he showed he is a quick learner, as after losing Tom Pope for Port Vale’s goal during the first-half, he immediately adapted and did not give the experienced striker a sniff for the rest of the game.