LIAM McDonald has challenged his Redditch United side to overcome the imminent departure of star striker Jermaine Hylton as they enter a “crunch period” of fixtures.
Twenty-one-year-old Hylton is tomorrow (Thursday) expected to sign a two-and-a-half-year deal with League One table-toppers Swindon Town, bringing to an end at exciting two-year stint at the Valley Stadium which has seen the winger-turned-striker net 45 goals for the Reds and play a pivotal part in turning United from Southern League Premier Division strugglers into a team in the hunt for promotion.
Redditch chairman Chris Swan has reportedly lodged a formal complaint to the Football Association after comments from Robins chairman Lee Power appeared to indicate the County Ground outfit breached the seven-day ruling applied in non-league football – alleging Swindon had already opened discussions with Hylton, who is not on a contract, prior to making their official approach to Redditch on New Year’s Day to speak to the player.
What, if anything, comes of any FA probe remains to be seen, but McDonald is keen for his side to move on as they prepare for a vital period of fixtures which could well go a long way to deciding whether United can at least cement their place in the play-off positions.
McDonald said: “Until the deal is signed on the dotted line you can never be certain but, as has long been the case, Jermaine and I have been in close contact and it would appear he’s going to sign a deal with Swindon on Thursday.
“It seems that’s where he’s decided to go. We all know by now there’s been interest from many League clubs in both England and Scotland, but Swindon have clearly made a good impression on him and I wish him nothing but good luck.
“I know under the old regime at Swindon there had been previous interest, but this move for Jermaine did come as a surprise to me.
“The chairman has had discussions with some clubs about whether Redditch could gain any financial benefit from the transfer of Jermaine, but I can’t expand on that. It would be nice to see some acknowledgement of the efforts we as a club have made with Jermaine and his footballing development, but that is not something I have any influence over.
“It’s been an honour and a privilege to work with Jermaine. I’ve known for a long time now he’d be playing in the Football League and he deserves his chance because he’s an individual who has worked very hard at his game and has a great attitude.
“I am confident that wherever he ends up he’s going to do himself justice and he has the potential to become even better. He’s got the attributes to go a long way.”
Asked whether Championship outfit Birmingham City – who last month trialled the pacy Hylton in an U21s fixture at Manchester City in which he scored one and had a hand in the other two goals in a 3-2 win – had followed up their interest, McDonald replied: “Both Gary Rowett (manager) and Richard Beale (senior professional development coach) were very keen on Jermaine. They’ve had him watched lots of times and were keen for him to have an opportunity there, but Swindon’s move then came out of the blue.
“I can’t say why Birmingham haven’t taken it further, that’s their prerogative.”
Redditch, who were held to a goalless draw at lowly Banbury United on New Year’s Day despite a largely dominant display, now face a crucial run of fixtures in their battle to win promotion.
McDonald’s side, who saw Saturday’s scheduled fixture at Cambridge City postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, now begin a batch of fixtures which “could define their season” according to the boss.
“We like to set ourselves points targets from months or periods of games and we’ve got a run of matches against sides now who all have eyes on the play-offs at least,” said McDonald.
“Dunstable Town at the Valley on Saturday is now a massive game for us. The unexpected fact we only had one game over the Christmas period means the lads have had a decent rest and I expect them to be raring to go on Saturday.
“It’s an exciting time for us. We are fourth, still in a great position, and our players have every incentive now to make this a second half of the season to remember.
“I expect Ashley Sammons and George Carline to become even better players now Jermaine is leaving, and Dior Angus will have to step up as well. It’s a challenge to them all but I have total faith they can rise to it because they’ve done so in the past and can do so again.”
Redditch, who have a Worcestershire Senior Cup semi-final at home to Worcester City on Tuesday, then face four successive away games as they visit title-chasing Poole Town, play-off hopefuls Truro City and Cirencester Town and then Cambridge City.
“We don’t fear anyone. That’s not how we play,” added McDonald. There are other sides at the top end of this division with a lot more pressure and expectation on them, so let’s give it everything we’ve got.
“Jermaine may have gone now, but when we scored 30 goals in ten games he scored eight, so we are not a one-man band. We’ve also kept 12 clean sheets in 25 league matches, so we are doing something right.”
Looking forward: Redditch United boss Liam McDonald is relishing a vital run of fixtures for his side. Photo by Marcus Mingins. 5214001MMR11.