Season in Review 2022-23 | Swansea City Under-21s
With the 2022-23 Professional Development League season having reached its conclusion, we take a look back over Swansea City Under-21s’ campaign.
Agonisingly, the Swans finished just one point outside the play-off positions, with the top two places being claimed by Millwall and Bristol City.
The Swans finished the season as top scorers in the south division, scoring 80 goals over 28 games.
The age-grade side remained unbeaten at the Swansea.com Stadium throughout their five games there over the campaign, and ended the season by winning nine of their final 12 games.
Striker Josh Thomas topped the goalscoring charts with 23 goals over the course of the season in all competitions, while the likes of Azeem Abdulai and Josh Cotterill would make first-team debuts.
Club stalwart Jon Grey left the under-21s' set-up in March to take on the assistant coach role with Wales Women alongside Gemma Grainger, as under-13s' coach Joe Roberts temporarily stepped up to accompany Anthony Wright in the dug out.
The Swans kicked off their Professional Development League campaign with back-to-back trips to the north west.
The opener saw a 2-1 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday – Josh Thomas with the only Swans goal, before two goals in the final moments secured a 2-2 draw against Crewe Alexandra.
Swansea City picked up their first win of the season in front of a home crowd at the Swansea.com Stadium with a 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic on the August Bank Holiday, with Kyrell Wilson grabbing his first goal at under-21 level.
The win would be the start of a fine unbeaten home run – with five consecutive victories in SA1 against Colchester United, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Watford and Queens Park Rangers, with the academy side registering four clean sheets in that sequence.
The Swans rounded off 2022 with a 3-2 home defeat to Coventry, relinquishing a 2-0 lead as a sixth home win in a row slipped through their fingers.
The new year started with a brace of draws against Charlton and Cardiff, with the latter seeing Liam Smith make his debut after arriving from Manchester City, while striker Thomas and Ben Lloyd returned from injury.
Those results proved the base for a fine run of form home and away, which raised hopes of a late surge into those play-off spots.
That sequence started with a 3-2 win over Watford at Vicarage Road with Thomas scoring the winner, and Smith bagging his first goal in a Swansea City shirt. A long trip to Colchester came just days later and it was Cameron Congreve's free-kick that snatched the three points in a 4-3 thriller.
Over the final 10 games there would be away defeats at Queens Park Rangers, Millwall and Barnsley.
However, the other seven games went in favour of the young Swans, picking 21 points out of a possible 30 as they played some sensational football.
A 3-1 win over Reading completed the league double over the Royals thanks to goals from Ruben Davies, Tivonge Rushesha and Corey Hurford.
Davies and Hurford would be on the scoresheet again just a week later, four first-half goals from Davies and a last-minute strike from Hurford secured the 5-3 win in an eight-goal thriller against Ipswich at Landore Training Ground in late March.
In April, Abdulai scored his first goal in a Swans shirt as they beat Hull City 3-1 at the Swansea.com Stadium, and further goals came from Davies and Congreve sealed a fifth win in six games for the youngsters.
The final four games were won by the Swans in dominant style. An outstanding performance against PDL North champions Sheffield United saw the Swans come out on top with a 4-1 win after a Josh Thomas brace, an own goal and a magnificent team goal finished off by Joe Thomas.
Wins over Bristol City and Burnley followed before the season was rounded off in emphatic style with a 10-1 win over Birmingham City at the Swansea.com Stadium.
The in-form Swans had led 5-0 inside half an hour against the shell-shocked visitors, Josh Thomas hitting a hat-trick, with Joe Thomas and Liam Smith also on the scoresheet.
Josh Thomas added his fourth, with Congreve, Rushesha, Hurford and captain Sam Leverett also finding the net after the break.
The under-21s' Premier League Cup campaign came to an end following a 2-0 defeat to Stoke City at St. George’s Park in early December. In the reverse fixture, just a week prior, The Potters had run out 4-0 winners, with four goals from Nathan Lowe.
The competition had began back in Arsenal with a 2-1 defeat despite Josh Thomas giving the Swans the lead against the Gunners.
A thrilling 5-2 win over Burnley, courtesy of a stunning fightback from two goals down, raised hopes of progression.
However, a 4-1 loss to Arsenal and those back-to-back defeats to the Potters would end those hopes, although another goal-fest against Burnley would see the campaign closed with a 3-3 draw.
In that latter fixture, under-18s' forward Iwan Morgan claimed his first goal for the upper-age group whilst Tarrelle Whittaker and a trilaist were also on the scoresheet.
The under-21s have been well represented at international level with Wales.
Josh Thomas made his Wales Under-21s' debut against Austria in an international friendly back in September, and also featured for Matty Jones' young Dragons in March, netting three goals in two games.
Meanwhile, Cotterill, Lloyd, Kai Ludvigsen and Congreve were called up to the Wales Under-19 squad ahead of their Uefa European Championship qualifying round-robin, which took place in north Wales.
Despite putting nine goals past Gibraltar in their final group stage game – with Congreve on the scoresheet – it wasn’t enough to progress to the Elite Round of qualification..
Congreve, Cotterill and Lloyd went on to receive their first under-21 call-ups in March for a training camp in Pinatar, Spain.
Abdulai, meanwhile, earned his first international call-up with Scotland Under-21s in March and featured in their friendly games against Columbia and Wales.
The new calendar year saw two new additions to the under-21s' squad.
Mitchell Bates signed from Briton Ferry Llansawel, following a successful trial period.
Midfielder Bates, who had previously had a stint on the books with the Swans, returned to the club's ranks on a professional deal through to the end of June 2024, with the option of an additional 12 months..
Scottish midfielder Smith joined Swansea City’s academy after completing a move from Manchester City.
Smith signed a two-and-a-half year deal through to the end of June 2025. The 19-year-old Scottish age-grade international had been at City since 2020, having had a long spell with his hometown club Kilmarnock.
A handful of academy starlets put pen to paper to extend their time at Swansea City over the course of the campaign.
Ben Lloyd signed a new contract to keep him at his boyhood club until the end of June 2026. The highly-rated 18-year-old’s previous deal – his first as a professional - had been due to expire in the summer of 2024.
Striker Josh Thomas was another to rewarded for his fine form, with new terms securing his future through to the end of June 2024.
Nineteen-year-old Harry Jones signed his first professional contract, keeping him at the club until June 2025. Joining him was Filip Lissah, who joined from Chelsea in the summer of 2021, the midfielder also signed his first professional contract, securing his future at Swansea until June 2025.
Swansea City midfielder Abdulai signed a new contract, also running to the summer of 2025 but with an option of a further year’s extension through to 2026.
Kai Ludvigsen, Ruben Davies and Kian Jenkins have all extended their contracts through to the end of June 2024. The trio had been due to be out of contract in June 2023, while Jack Stafford has penned a short-term extension through to the end of December 2023.