Nichol hopes Hillhouse will be first of many to progress to senior ranks

Actions from Halifax Town v Alfreton, at the Shay. Sam Hillhouse
Actions from Halifax Town v Alfreton, at the Shay. Sam Hillhouse

Town’s head of youth development Steve Nichol believes Sam Hillhouse can be the first of many youngsters to graduate to the club’s senior squad.

The success of the club’s youth programme was emphasised when 18-year-old Hillhouse, one of the course’s first year alumni, was handed an 18-month contract with the Shaymen recently.

Other youngsters from the club’s under 19 crop such as Jack Bradley and Will Chappell have appeared for the senior side in West Riding County cup games.

Hillhouse made his Halifax début against Alfreton last month and Nichol is confident others could soon follow in his footsteps.

“I fully believe we have players with the potential to, in time, push for our first-team,” says Nichol.

“However the jump to Conference football is enormous, the challenge for our players is are the ready to do it by 18 or 19?

“We’re trying to find ways to keep the players together for longer, be it an under 21 squad or extending our programme to give them the time they need to realise their potential.

“I fully believe players don’t reach their physical but most importantly emotional maturity until around the age of 21 and finding ways to extend our programme until this age will give our players the time they need.

“I hope Sam is the start and I believe there are players with us who have the potential to come through as well.

Nichol is preaching a patient approach with Halifax-born Hillhouse, and reckons his signature sends a positive message out to the other youth team players.

“I’m careful not to raise expectations too high with Sam,” Nichol says.

“He must remain humble, continually strive to be a better player, possess a relentless work ethic and keep his feet on the floor.

“If Sam or any other player does not possess those values they won’t go forwards. I believe many aspects of the game can be coached; technically, tactically, physically and to a degree psychologically, but a player must be coachable, willing to learn, competitive and a self-motivator without that they will not play at a high level.

“It’s good that Neil and David have signed him because it shows there’s a serious intent of progressing young talent and it sends a message to our youth team players that if they’re good enough or show they have the potential to develop the club are looking at them.

“Personally I was very happy about it because it’s the first player since the club reformed to be signed, and he’s from our first group of players.

“I have been pleased with how Neil has involved him so far, he has had a good opportunity to experience first team and Conference football but this is a club aiming for promotion and it’s a fine balancing act between integrating young players alongside the experience needed to win games and there maybe occasions where Sam is not involved.”

Nichol believes Hillhouse has the ability to eventually establish himself in the first-team, but says the youngster has a lot of hard work ahead of him.

“The progress Sam’s made over the last 18 months has been fantastic,” added Nichol.

“His pace is devastating at times particularly as a game opens up towards the end. He can scare defenders in how he runs at them.

“He’s got a knack for getting in areas to score goals, which is a difficult thing to find.

“But he’s got a lot of development ahead of him. He’s had no structured academy football since he was 11 when he left Huddersfield Town.

“He came to our trial when we had around 80 players back in June 2013 and he put himself in central midfield.

“He’s a centre forward but he went in central midfield thinking he would get more time on the ball to show what he could do and he didn’t stand out at all.

“We didn’t take him through to the next stage. His dad called me and said ‘I think you’ve made a mistake’.

“I said to bring him down to a training session and we’ll see how he does.

“He came in, fitted in all right and as a forward started to show his potential so we signed him although when the programme started he wasn’t getting in the squad, which was maybe a good thing in that he had to work for it.

“He forced his way in and his progress has now been rewarded by the club.

“Sam’s challenge now is to continue his development.

“The ability’s there and backed up with the right work ethic he will give himself the best possible opportunity.”