West Bromwich Albion youngster Taylor Gardner-Hickman has been nothing short of sensational in recent games.
Already emerging as a promising youngster when he stepped in for Darnell Furlong against Hull City at the start of last month, he has only increased the hype surrounding him at The Hawthorns with two of his most recent performances against Coventry City and Reading.
These two games presented a different challenge in each, but it was his display against the Sky Blues that was arguably the most impressive. Coming straight back into the starting lineup after spending Albion’s previous two games on the bench, he was forced to play alongside Alex Mowatt in central midfield with Jake Livermore, Jayson Molumby and Robert Snodgrass all unavailable.
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Mark Robins’ side could have easily spotted this as a potential weakness to exploit, but the 19-year-old used his defensive knowledge and admirable composure to do a fine job in the middle of the park and remain reasonably solid, earning deserved plaudits and placing himself in contention for another start.
But with a Covid crisis hitting the Baggies’ defence between then and their following match against Reading, he may have got into the starting lineup regardless of his performance considering the severity of the situation with Matt Clarke, Semi Ajayi, Cedric Kipre and Conor Townsend all isolating.
This meant the teenager dropped back into his more natural wing-back role, but had the difficult task of guiding the likes of Adam Reach and Jake Livermore in central defence as they took their turn to play in an unorthodox position.
Thankfully for Gardner-Hickman, he didn’t have to keep a close eye on the duo because they both performed excellently, but he was still the main man on social media that received praise for yet another sparkling performance, this time against the Royals.
Considering most of the game was played in the Berkshire outfit’s half as a hugely one-sided match in favour of the Baggies, it would have been strange for many outsiders who hadn’t watched the match to understand why he was praised so much.
But it was clear to those who were closely following the game as to why he was highlighted. Not only did he put in a mature performance that played a part in helping his side to keep a clean sheet, but he was commanding with the ball and played with such confidence, not looking out of place in the Championship at all.
With Livermore and Molumby back in midfield and all four isolating defenders due back shortly, the teenager may unfairly find himself on the bench again, potentially persuading Ismael to loan him out in the upcoming window to maximise such a talented young player’s game time.
This would be an understandable stance for the Frenchman to take but with a lack of depth at wing-back and in central midfield, two positions which the Englishman has shown he can play in, it would be worth keeping hold of him for the remainder of the campaign.
That depth in midfield may become even worse if former Scotland international Snodgrass is allowed to leave the club, and as this season has already shown, it only takes a few injuries, suspensions or Covid cases for the 19-year-old to make his way back into the starting lineup.
As well as that, he has also shown he can play at this level without any problems, performing admirably against a high-flying Coventry side in a local derby that the Baggies needed to win to end a miserable run.
Showing he can handle this pressure, there’s no reason why he should be dropping down a tier anytime soon and alongside some very capable players on the training ground, he will only improve further as the season goes on.
And at his age, he can afford to sit on the bench in some games, potentially reducing the risk of him burning out and benefitting him in the long term because of that.
These reasons are why it would it wouldn’t make sense to ship him out on loan just yet, because his current club knows they can rely on him to put in a shift for a promotion-chasing side already.
He isn’t just adored by West Brom fans because he’s one of their own, he’s already loved at The Hawthorns because his impact as a game-changer has allowed them to maximise their points return at a crucial time in the season.