IN WHAT has proved to be a sometimes difficult return to life in the Championship for Hull City, Jarrod Bowen’s stellar performances have been something of a shining light for supporters.
Only Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has more Championship goals to his name than the five netted by the 20-year-old in the opening nine games of the season.
As pleasing as this return has been, however, perhaps the thing about Bowen that has most caught the eye is the maturity and poise on the ball that he has brought to a Tigers side that remains very much one in transition.
For Academy manager Jon Beale, who joined the City youth set-up a couple of months before a then 17-year-old Bowen moved north from a soon-to-be defunct Hereford United, the Leominster-born midfielder’s rise is one that understandably brings a smile to his face.
“Everyone at the Academy is delighted for Jarrod,” said Beale to The Yorkshire Post.
“He had a couple of tastes of the first team last year and did well in the Premier League but he has really pushed on again this season.
Jarrod was maybe a little bit raw in certain attributes but that is not a bad thing, as it gives a player a bit of an edge. He has worked really hard and is an example to all the lads in the Academy, as to what can be achieved with the right mentality.Jon Beale
“We arrived here at more or less the same time and you could see then that Jarrod had already played senior football at Conference level and that he had that little bit of something about him.
“He was maybe a little bit raw in certain attributes but that is not a bad thing, as it gives a player a bit of an edge.
“He has worked really hard and is an example to all the lads in the Academy, as to what can be achieved with the right mentality.”
Bowen’s impressive form has been recognised way beyond Hull, as underlined by him recently picking up the Championship Young Player of the Month award for August. It is a notable honour whose past recipients include Dele Alli and Will Hughes, and there can be little doubt that Preston North End manager Alex Neil will tonight have already warned his players about the threat he poses.
Such a meteoric rise demands that kind of respect, as does Bowen being responsible for a third of Hull’s 15 goals despite being mainly deployed in a wide midfield role by Slutsky.
Life in the East Riding, however, hasn’t always been as smooth with a spate of injuries at 18 leading to drastic action from the Academy staff.
“Jarrod was picking up a lot of injuries so we took him out of the firing line completely,” added Beale, who succeeded Tony Pennock at the helm of the Academy a little under a year ago.
“He just did one training session per week and then worked really closely with the sports scientists, to get him in the best physical shape. Jarrod already had a contract at that age so it was felt to be the best course of action and the staff did a great job.”
Academies, of course, have been in the news recently following Huddersfield Town’s decision to scrap all but their Under-18s and Under-23s set-ups, while also downgrading from Category Two to Four status under the Elite Player Performance Plan regulations.
Around 100 boys from the age groups below have been released as part of a restructuring that the Premier League side felt necessary due to not enough players of the required standard having come through the ranks over the years.
Hull’s youth set-up underwent its own overhaul a few years ago but the intention was to beef up the operation rather than scale it down. Beale’s arrival along with Pennock from Swansea City’s Academy in 2014 was a key part of those attempts to improve and, so far, the results have been encouraging.
Bowen may be the poster boy for a club’s Academy, which is based at the impressive Bishop Burton College and was granted Category Two status in 2015, but Max Clark also started the season in the first team, while no less than ten youngsters made their first-team debuts in last month’s Carabao Cup defeat to Doncaster Rovers.
Many caught the eye in that 2-0 defeat, while Josh Tymon is another to have played in the Premier League before being spirited away by Stoke City last summer.
“What Jarrod, Josh, Max and a few others have shown is that there is a clear pathway to the first team at the club,” added Beale. “That is important, not just for the boys but also their parents.
“Not every youngster taken on will become a scholar. And not every scholar will go on to get a contract. But there is a real commitment there to develop our own players.
“I was at the Doncaster game because so many of the lads were going to play. They did really well and it was good for supporters to get a glimpse of the talent there is at the club.”
Last six games: Hull City LWLLDD, Preston North End WDDWWD.
Referee: J Linington (Isle of Wight).
Last time: Hull City 2 Preston North End 0; August 29, 2015; Championship.