Swansea City Under-23s | A Year in Review
As the year draws to a close, we look back on how 2019 panned out for Swansea City Under-23s.
The under-23s entered the year on the back of a successful 2018 for the development side, who finished a highly respectable fourth place in their debut Premier League 2 Division 1 season, as well as reaching a second consecutive Premier League Cup final.
The likes of Oli McBurnie, Daniel James, George Byers and Joe Rodon had played instrumental roles for the under-23s, but their subsequent promotions to the first team meant that several first-year pros were handed the task of trying to fill their shoes.
Nevertheless, this opened the door for no fewer than 19 players to make their debuts for the development side over the course of 2019 under Gary Richards and Cameron Toshack – including 15-year-old Josh Edwards, as well as first-year scholars Lewis Webb, Erick Kenko and Josh Thomas.
The under-23s were unable to preserve their two-year stay in Premier League 2 Division 1 – the top flight of development football – but they enjoyed significant success in the cup competitions.
First, they reached a third successive Premier League Cup semi-final, before boosting their hopes of progression in the Premier League International Cup with pleasing results against PSV Eindhoven II and Porto B.
There were also first-team debuts in the Carabao Cup for Ben Cabango, Jordon Garrick and Kees de Boer, as well as Jack Evans and Tivonge Rushesha.
Meanwhile, in his first season as the development side’s leading striker, Liam Cullen managed an impressive 10 goals in Premier League 2; a tally only bettered by Brighton’s Aaron Connolly.
Cullen scored twice in the under-23s’ opening match of 2019, which brought a resounding 5-1 victory away at title-chasing Derby.
The Tenby-born striker also found the net against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, but his goals were unable to prevent the development side’s Premier League 2 Division 1 tenure from coming to an end.
However, they did enjoy another successful run in the Premier League Cup – topping Group E ahead of Wolves, before beating Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest in the knockout stages to set up a semi-final showdown with Everton at the Liberty.
Despite injuries forcing them into first-half substitutions, the Swans produced a spirited performance against the newly crowned league champions, who boasted players with widespread first-team experience, before eventually succumbing to a 2-0 defeat.
Swansea lost two of their opening three group games in the following season’s competition – leaving them with work to do at the halfway point.
However, they are in a good position to qualify for the Premier League International Cup knockout stages, having taken four points from their opening two games.
Cullen’s terrific equaliser secured a 1-1 draw against PSV and, the following week, Oli Cooper was the hero with a hat-trick helping his side to a thumping 5-1 rout of former champions Porto.
The under-23s will enter 2020 under new guidance following the departures of Toshack, who was appointed head coach of Cypriot side Pafos FC earlier this month, with Richards soon following his long-term colleague to Cyprus.
But with a clear pathway for our youngsters, there is certainly plenty of cause for optimism going into the New Year.