Football: Laws plans to hold on to his young talent

Scunthorpe United 1 Leyton Orient 0
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The Independent Online
BETWEEN THE time it took the Scunthorpe manager, Brian Laws, to finish congratulating his players on winning Saturday's Third Division play-off final at Wembley and reaching the interview room reality had dawned.

"I know what my biggest problem is for next season and it's not how to stay in the Second Division, but how to keep the best of the young players who got us there."

He was thinking particularly of the youngest of them in a play-off that for the first half was as one sided in Scunthorpe's favour as the previous Saturday's FA Cup final had been in the grip of Manchester United. Nineteen- year-old Gareth Sheldon's contribution helped make it so. His two goals in extra time against Swansea in the second leg of the semi-final had got them to Wembley, and once there he took only six minutes to lay on the winning goal to which Scunthorpe clung throughout a second half in which Orient at last began to play.

Laws, who himself enjoyed four Wembley victories with Nottingham Forest, was almost reluctant to give too much praise to Sheldon, calling him "a little gem" but insisting that the club's former trainee, who would not even have played had not John Eyre been suspended, was "still very raw".

Clearly that was a warning to richer clubs that this is a talent not yet ready for the big time. Wishful thinking. There were scouts from all over in the Wembley VIP seats. Sheldon's stunningly quick turn in the Orient penalty area left the winning goalscorer, Alex Calvo-Garcia, with a still challenging but unchallenged header inside the far post.

The Orient defence could hardly have been accused of keeping a watchful eye, but the Spaniard's finish was superbly done. At least Laws is confident that Calvo-Garcia, who three years ago played in the Spanish Second Division, will not take a lot of persuading to stay on for a try in the English equivalent, but he has nine players out of contract. "I know it could be difficult to keep them," he said. "But I don't think they'll jump ship."

Calvo-Garcia, whose midfield industry was almost as valuable as his goal, was elated that his career seemed to be blooming in a town that before he was invited to join its football club of modest achievements he was unaware existed. "It's so refreshing," Laws said, "that a player with his ability can come to a club like ours without wanting money we can't afford".

Orient's manager, Tommy Taylor, may not exactly have the stimulating half-time lecturing ability of Alex Ferguson, but he certainly inspired an extraordinary change in the flow of the game.

Whereas in the first half Sheldon and the vastly more experienced John Gayle had a constant flow of possession, in the second an equaliser seemed inevitable. That it failed to materialise made it all the more infuriating that Orient's one early chance of the first half, a missed header by Steve Watts, had slipped away.

After putting on Craig Maskell and Alex Inglethorpe they made Scunthorpe prove the quality of their defence, especially in the dwindling, tension crackling final minutes when Amara Simba unthreaded a goalmouth melee, but still had his snap shot blocked on the line.

Goal: Calvo-Garcia (6) 1-0.

Leyton Orient (4-4-2): Barrett; Joseph, Smith, Hicks (Maskell, 46), Clark; Richards (Inglethorpe, 46), Beal, Ling, Lockwood; Watts, Simba. Substitute not used:Stimson.

Scunthorpe United (5-2-3): Evans; Harsley, Wilcox, Logan, Hope, Dawson; Walker, Calvo-Garcia (Housham, 77); Sheldon, Gayle (Stamp, 79), Forrester (Bull, 84).

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).

Bookings: Orient: Joseph. Scunthorpe: Logan, Gayle.

Man of the match: Calvo-Garcia.

Attendance: 36,985.