DONCASTER Rovers’ 4-0 victory over Exeter City in the Football League Youth Alliance Cup final at St James’ Park on Tuesday night capped a remarkable season for young defender James Husband.
The Leeds-born left-back’s exploits in the club’s youth team earned him the longest initial deal - he is contracted to the club until the end of the 2013-14 - in recent memory late last year.
Husband continued to learn his trade in the youth team, which gave Chelsea a run for their money in their FA Youth Cup third round tie, and which finished runners-up in the Northern Alliance League, whilst also training with the senior squad on occasions.
He made his full debut in the club’s final Championship away game of the season at Coventry and took the Rovers’ man-of-the-match award.
He was equally impressive on his home debut in Saturday’s 3-2 defeat against Ipswich Town and was the sponsor’s man of the match. Later that evening he was presented with the club’s Young Player of the Year award.
“He’s really good on the ball and he actually goes for the ball and tackles people like full-backs used to do,” said Rovers’ boss Dean Saunders.
“He actually tackles people and he’s hard to play against. Like Tommy Spurr, he has a bit of aggression and that’s what I look for in player.
“Talent is nothing without work. You are (sometimes) better off having a player who works hard with no (real) talent.
“James has got the basics and he’s got an old head on young shoulders. He’s mentally strong and he wants to win. He’s got a good leap for someone whose not that big, and he tackles his winger and, as I say, he plays with some aggression.”
The emergence of Husband, already reported to be interesting Premier League teams, is just one of several plus points to lighten the gloom of a campaign during which Rovers were always battling against relegation.
“We had some very good performances and we beat some big clubs, such as Southampton,” claimed Saunders.
“I also think that the players are different animals now. Those who were here already have actually got better at getting the ball back. There are two sides to football - when you’ve got the ball and when you haven’t.
“Looking at the group, which admittedly I am going to find hard to keep together, I think that if I could add three or four players with the right amount of steel then we would have a great chance of going back up next season.”
Although he admits that he has to move some players out, including some he would like to keep, before he can start shaping next’s season’s squad, Saunders says that he knows the players he would like to bring in.
“If I can shuffle players around I’ve got some promising young lads lined up to bring in.” he said. “There are some promising lads in League Two and there are also some lads in the Championship that I’ve seen this season who have impressed me who might not get a game (with their clubs) next season.
“But I know you can’t play a team of young lads in League One and you have to try and combine young players with people with the right experience.”
Saunders has an extensive knowledge of the Conference scene from his time in charge at Wrexham, and doesn’t rule out casting his net in that direction.
“What I did learn my time in the Conference with Wrexham was that there were players who would run through a brick wall for you,” he said.
Arguably Saunders biggest headache during the close season will be to sign at least one goal-scoring striker.
“There are not many strikers who score goals who are available on a free,” he told The Star. “You are going to have to pay money; even in the Conference you’ve got to pay money.”
With money likely to be tight during the summer, Saunders could well be tempted to try and pick up a non-League bargain.
“It will be easier for a striker from a Conference club to adjust to League One than the Championship where defences are better,” he said.
“You never know how a player from that level will turn out until you get them. I’ve spoken to members of staff at Stevenage and they didn’t think that some of their players would be able to make the step up to League Two (after being promoted from the Conference) but they coped and not only that but they’ve done well in League One, so you never know until they have a go.”
As well as believing that his players have improved during his time at the club, Saunders also claims that he has become a better manager since arriving at the Keepmoat Stadium and will benefit from the lessons learned in his first full season in charge in the 2012-13 campaign.
“I learnt so much at Wrexham about being a manager but I’ve learnt a lot more while I’ve been here as well,” he said. “You learn every day.
“I put (defender) Sam Hird in midfield in the game at Middlesbrough and probably I should have done it earlier because we looked more solid defensively in our last three games.”