PREVIEW: Bristol City vs Leeds United
TEENAGE prospect Joe Bryan, pictured, is proof that Bristol City's academy is serving its purpose.
Born and raised in the city, Bryan's journey from junior age group football to the lofty environs of the npower Championship has taken a decade – and a good deal of capital investment – on the part of his club.
But that outlay will be deemed money well spent if the midfielder-turned-left-back continues to feature in City's Championship squad.
Some fans have questioned the wisdom of funding a youth system that has provided no more than a modest sprinkling of home-grown talent for the first team in the last two decades.
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Only Cole Skuse and Louis Carey have made the grade in recent years, during which time many have tried, failed and been moved out of Ashton Gate to pursue their thwarted ambitions elsewhere.
However, all the evidence suggests Bryan, for one, is capable of bucking that particular trend.
Afforded a rare Championship appearance at left-back when Greg Cunningham ruptured a tendon in his ankle at Peterborough last week, the 19-year-old, pictured, has shown that one man's misfortune can be another's opportunity.
Replacing the Irishman for the final 20 minutes at London Road, the youngster did enough to warrant promotion to the starting line-up at Watford last Saturday and his first 90-minute appearance for the senior team was certainly impressive.
Bryan struck the required balance between defence and attack, setting up City's opening goal for Marvin Elliott and holding his own against Watford's Italian wing-back Marco Cassetti. There was an assurance about his contribution which suggests he will again feature in the squad against Leeds, despite the arrival of Cameroon defender George Elokobi, on a three-month emergency loan deal in midweek.
Originally a winger, Bryan said: "I had to keep reminding myself not to go forward too often at Watford.
"This is a much higher level than anything I've played before and you cannot afford to go crazy, because the opposition will pick you off if you bomb on and get stuck upfield.
"I think I got the balance just about right on Saturday and I felt more confident the longer the game went on.
"I found myself in one or two strange defensive situations in the first half, but the other players helped me out and talked me through the problems. Having Martyn Woolford just in front of me and Liam Fontaine and Stephen Pearson inside me, was massively important.
"I love to get forward, but as a full-back I understand that my responsibility is to defend. That said, I will try to get forward when the opportunity arises if picked to play against Leeds. I may only rarely score a goal from left-back, but I can definitely provide them for others.
"I know I took as much pleasure from making the first goal at Watford as Marvin did in scoring it."
Cunningham will be sidelined for up to two months and Elokobi, out of favour at Wolves, has been signed to provide short-term cover.
But City boss Derek McInnes stressed that Elokobi's arrival does not signal the end of Bryan's first-team involvement. He said: "Bringing in George is certainly no sleight on Joe, who has done an excellent job. He is a young player we rate very highly and he has a big future at the club.
"But Greg is out for two months and that was a lot of games to cover with just one left-back. George has come here to get games, but Joe will continue to provide competition at left-back and on the left of midfield."