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Ryan Giggs is right, first team football is key for Liverpool’s Harry Wilson

The Reds loanee is the youngest ever player to pull on a Wales shirt.

Greg Whitaker

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Photo: Getty Images

It has been a roller-coaster decade for the Welsh national side.

From the tragic death of manager Gary Speed in 2011, to reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in their first major tournament since 1958, and then failing to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup.

However, it was in the middle of this whirlwind seven years that another piece of often overlooked history was made.

In October 2013, a 16-year-old Harry Wilson became Wales’ youngest ever player when he came on as a substitute in a 1-1 draw with Belgium in October 2013.

Who would have guessed the Liverpool starlet would have to wait nearly four and a half years for his second cap?

After a highly impressive second debut in the Chana Cup last week, I’m sure any Wales fan will tell you it was certainly worth the wait.

The 21-year-old, who is currently on loan at Championship strugglers Hull City, naturally earned comparisons with compatriots Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs following his role in Wales’ 6-0 demolition of host nation China.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

In a game in which the headlines were predictably wrapped up by Bale, whose hat-trick makes the Real Madrid man Wales’ highest ever goalscorer, Wilson’s goal, which also accompanied an impressive assist, was arguably the best of the six.

High praise indeed.

This stand-out display in Nanning follows a roaring start to life in the Championship at Hull City.

Wilson, who signed a new long-term deal with Liverpool before his loan move to the KCOM in January, has proved a rare shining light in an otherwise poor season for the Tigers.

Scoring three goals in just six league appearances, the Welshman may prove key in keeping Hull City in the division come April.

Although regularly impressing for Liverpool’s U23s during the past few seasons in the Premier League 2, Wilson has made just one senior appearance for the senior side – an FA Cup tie against Plymouth last season.

However, should his impressive first real taste of regular senior football finish as well has it has started, the 21-year-old could well find himself in the first team fold when he returns to Anfield this summer.

Interestingly, it is for exactly this reason that Ryan Giggs chose this international break to give young Wilson his second taste of international football.

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Speaking to the local media earlier this week, the former Manchester United man stressed the importance of regular first-team football on a young player’s career:

“When you’re in and out of the reserves or the first team or you’re training with the first team but not playing regular first team football, it has an effect.” Giggs said, before adding, “Harry [Wilson] and Declan [John] are seeing the benefits of playing week in, week out because you can’t beat playing competitive first team games.”

Giggs’ appointment as Chris Coleman’s successor was met with a mixed response by some due to a perceived lack of managerial experience and a historical lack of commitment to the international side.

However, his experience as a truly world class player, and working under one of the greatest managers of all time in Alex Ferguson, is seemingly already paying dividends.

It is true that the Welsh national side is currently in the middle of a so-called Golden Generation of talented players.

However, as we have seen with England in recent years, this does not last forever. A new cycle of talent must be eased into the international fold.

While it is still very early days for Giggs in the Wales dugout, the initial signs are good. This Welsh squad needs to be not only developed, but also rebuilt and strengthened with young talent.

The inclusion and initial success of the likes of Harry Wilson, among others, highlights the need for young players to be playing regular first-team football from an early age.

However, it also shows Giggs wants to do things the right way.

A ‘show me what you can do, and you will be rewarded’ policy represents a positive first step in Ryan Giggs’ managerial career and one that both Wales and their young players like Harry Wilson are likely to benefit from in the long term.

For this reason, Wales fans have every reason to be very optimistic about the future of their national side.

Greg is a freelance writer and broadcast journalist who has previously worked as a sports journalist at the likes of the BBC, Yahoo Sports UK, and the Hull Daily Mail. A long-standing Hull City supporter, Greg has also spent time as a Director on the Board of the Hull City Supporters' Trust. Follow him on Twitter - @Greg_Whitaker

Hull City

Nottingham Forest should close in on out-of-contract Abel Hernandez

Josh Kerr

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Hernandez
Photo: Getty Images

With the summer transfer window quickly approaching, the list of players linked with moves is growing by the day.

Nottingham Forrest are the latest team in the rumour mill and are being linked by the Nottingham Post with £10 million-rated striker Abel Hernandez – an exciting forward the club should definitely consider pursuing.

The 27-year-old’s current contract is set to expire in the summer, meaning he could become available on a free at the beginning of the summer window.

However, Forest are not the only side interested in the former Palermo striker with Olympiacos, Celtic, Aston Villa and Newcastle also keeping tabs on the Urugyuan international.

The Hull City goalscorer has had his fair share of injuries in recent months but when fit it’s impossible to deny Hernandez has an impressive eye for goal.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

Despite considerable time spent on the sidelines, Hernandez has hit eight goals in 10 games this season for Hull, with the striker earning respect across the Championship and a move could seem imminent for Hull’s no 10.

Since joining the Tigers in 2014, Hernandez has struck 37 goals in 101 appearances (including two Premier League seasons) for the club, and he could be the goalscorer Aitor Karanka needs to push for a play-off charge next season.

The Reds have still yet to find a hit-man that fires on all fronts and, while ensuring the continued development of their promising youngsters, they need a marksman who is going to improve on the teams 51 goals this season.

Hernandez has the Championship experience to fill that void. If Karanka takes a gamble on the Uruguayan, it would undoubtedly assist the club in pushing on from this season’s disappointing 17th place finish.

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Championship

Kevin Stewart has not proven Liverpool wrong for £8 million sale

Liverpool sold the midfielder to Hull City in the summer.

Mathew Coull

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Photo: Getty Images

In the summer Liverpool decided to let midfielder Kevin Stewart leave the club. The 24-year-old had caused a stir when he followed Academy Director Alex Inglethorpe from Tottenham Hotspur to Liverpool in 2014.

The versatile player soon spent time out on loan with the likes of Cheltenham Town, Burton Albion and Swindon Town before finding his way into the Liverpool first-team picture under Jurgen Klopp.

He played 11 times for the club in the 2015-16 season, an impressive tally for the youngster who had established his best position as a holding midfielder.

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

But after just nine appearances last term he made a permanent move from Liverpool in the summer. The Reds decided to let him go after recently relegated Hull City made a bid to bring him in, as a replacement for the Derby County-bound Tom Huddlestone.

It was reported by The Telegraph that the deal was worth around £8 million for the player to head to the KCOM Stadium. The Hull Daily Mail have since reported that the initial fee for the player is just £4 million, but it could rise to £8m with add-ons.

So far, Liverpool will not feel they made a mistake letting him go. Stewart has had a tough season with The Tigers.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

He suffered an injury during his Hull debut against QPR back in August and that essentially sums up his season. He has played just 16 times in the Championship this season whilst Hull have been fighting a relegation battle. In fact, there improved form came at a time when Stewart was out of action.

In February, Hull were on the end of a 4-0 thrashing in the FA Cup against Chelsea. The result reflected a poor performance from Hull but the local media pointed the finger at the former Liverpool man. The Hull Daily Mail, in fact, labelled him Hull’s ‘weak link’ in their match report.

At times during his stay at Liverpool, it looked as though Stewart might have a future at the club. But that has not proved to be the case after a series of disappointing displays and injury turmoil.

Hopefully, next season Stewart can have more of an impact at Hull. But, right now, it seems Liverpool will have no regrets about his sale.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 4-0 Hull City – Willian plays himself into Champions League contention

Jake Jackman

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Chelsea

Chelsea continued their upturn in form with a convincing 4-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. The Blues were overwhelming favourites for the tie, but they had to get the job done and they did so effectively, scoring four times in the first-half.

They would have had one eye on the Champions League tie against Barcelona that is upcoming and that led to Antonio Conte making several changes.

The Italian decided to rest key players such as Eden Hazard, Ngolo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. It was the right decision as they progressed with comfort. Here are three talking points from the match:

Olivier Giroud is off the mark

One huge positive to come out of the game for the hosts was Olivier Giroud’s first goal for the club. He signed in January to provide competition for Alvaro Morata and his performances have been encouraging since signing, but to hit the back of the net takes the pressure off the Frenchman.

The signing carried relatively little risk for Chelsea as the striker has lots of experience in England and his consistency is already shining through in a Blues’ shirt.

Early into the game, he had a great opportunity to open his account, but he blazed a volley over the bar. It was a difficult chance as the ball was lifted over the defence to play him in, but a striker of his calibre should have done better.

Three goals were scored and he didn’t score one of them. If he had finished the match without scoring, it would have been talked about and that is why his goal just before half-time will relieve the pressure from him.

The rest of his game was excellent as he got two assists and linked up the play well from the front-line. Although he was brought in to be the back-up striker, Conte may give him the start against Barcelona as he is the player in form.

Hull City showed fight in the second half

The contest was over by the time the players stepped back out for the second-half, but Hull City showed fight and commitment to keep the score down to 4-0.

Nigel Adkins knows the importance of every mental victory when battling against relegation and to draw the second half can provide the players with confidence ahead of a return to league action.

Their performance was markedly improved as they created good opportunities and came close to scoring from the penalty spot. David Meyler stepped up and saw his penalty saved, but that didn’t see the players lose focus as they continued to create opportunities. During the match, they had 10 shots to Chelsea’s 14, which shows that they were far from embarrassed. They just didn’t have the quality in the final third that their Premier League opposition did possess.

It would be a huge blow for Hull City to suffer back-to-back relegations and their manager will be aware of that. This match against Chelsea was a good occasion, but it was far from a priority and their defeat won’t live too long in the memory.

They are currently 21st in the Championship and only above the bottom three by one point. Their far superior goal difference provides encouragement, but they must show this level of commitment until the end of the season if they are to avoid the drop.

Willian proved his quality before the return of the Champions League

Rotation can cause problems in the FA Cup, but in this case, it provided an opportunity to those that are on the fringes of the first-team to play themselves into contention for the Champions League.

Willian is an interesting case as he does feature prominently, but he isn’t a guaranteed first-team starter, as Pedro often gets the nod to start ahead of him.

Willian was excellent against Hull City and certainly gave his manager some food for thought ahead of the match with Barcelona. He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made three key passes as he terrorised the opposition defence. On the day, he scored twice, but he easily could have got a hat-trick.

Antonio Conte will be aware that his team’s big weakness is an over-reliance on Eden Hazard. The return of Cesc Fabregas goes some way to providing some support to the Belgian, but if Chelsea can get Willian playing to this level consistently, that would be a positive. He is more dynamic than Pedro and offers more flair to the attack. This performance could see him start against Barcelona.

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