Ball - Loan stars reaping benefits

by Stuart Vose

Coach Kevin Ball believes loan deals are vital for players.

Senior development coach Kevin Ball feels going out on loan is an extremely important part of preparing young players for the rigours of first-team football.

Ball has overseen a host of loan spells since moving up to work with the U21 side last summer, including that of Billy Knott who has made excellent progress in the lower leagues.

The talented midfielder spent half a season with AFC Wimbledon in 2011-12 – winning the club's Young Player of the Season award – and has linked up with Conference Premier side Woking this time around.

Knott, who has spent time out recently with a hamstring injury, has scored five goals in 10 games and recently extended his stay until the end of March.

And Ball says the move is a good example of how a temporary switch elsewhere can help members of the development squad sharpen their games.

“Obviously [Woking] is near where Billy is from, which has helped him in terms of being able to go somewhere and be quite settled and being back at home,” Ball said.

“What he’s been very fortunate with is that Garry Hill, the manager at Woking, is very supportive of what we need from Billy whilst he’s down there.

“I speak to Garry on a regular basis about how Billy’s doing, and he’s been absolutely fantastic as a support mechanism to us.”

Ball added: “Billy’s thoroughly enjoyed it, he's done very well and our staff have been to watch him play.

“I personally haven't been yet but I’d like to go and watch him in that environment and the reports we've got back have said that he’s doing really well.

“One of the major reasons he went there was for him to get fitter and stronger and when [coach] Robbie Stockdale went to see him he said he lasted the full 90 minutes on a really heavy pitch - at the end he was still bombing about, so he’s really enhanced his fitness levels.”

Other members of the development squad are also currently away at other clubs, including Adam Reed at League One Portsmouth and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who recently joined Conference club Alfreton.

“For me, sometimes going out and getting the experience anywhere is important, somewhere where there are points to be won and there is a crowd,” Ball added.

“With Jordan [Pickford], for example, last Saturday he played at Wrexham and did very well in front of 4,000 people, which was a fantastic experience for him.

“He phoned after the game and said it was a big test for him as well and those are the sort of things we want for the players – to experience these sort of days. It was a massive game for Alfreton and a good result [1-1] for them.”