Development manager Richard Shaw feels that the youngsters he is blooding in the under-23 side recently will enjoy long-term benefits from being regularly tested against tougher opposition.
With just five games left to go in the Professional Development League, Shaw has been reflecting on his first campaign at the helm of the under-23 side and believes that despite a mixed bag of results, he is delighted with the way that so many of the club’s academy players have made the step up from under-18s football to test themselves against professionals up to five years their elder.
Evaluating the campaign, Shaw said: “It’s been up and down; it was difficult when I first came in because we had a lot of boys aged between 21 and 23 who needed to get out on loan in my opinion It could have been easy to have had them around and won every game but I didn’t think that was progress. They’ve gone out and forging their careers in the Football League where it counts, and they need to do that.
“Because of that, we knew we would be playing on the stretch this year with youngsters, although we didn’t think they would be this young. However, they will benefit from this season and come back stronger having tested themselves at this level.
“We started the season well but then the guys went out on loan and we had a tricky period where we lost five on the trot, but we’ve had some good results over the last nine games winning five of them and drawing two, so we’ve done OK.”
The upturn in results since the start of the year has come while Shaw has been handing scholars such as Levi Lumeka, Tyrick Mitchell and Jason Lokilo (above) chances alongside others who have been gaining international recognition of late. Not afraid to play anyone deemed good enough regardless of their age, the development boss is looking forward to working further with this crop of youngsters to push them nearer first-team football, either in SE25 or elsewhere.
“We’re in development and people lose sight of that,” he added. “It’s easy to sit there and play under-23s football and win the league, and teams now are keeping 23-year-olds around meaning some of our guys are playing against players five years older than them. We had nine scholars play against Colchester earlier in the season and they had a team of under-23s, and seven against Leeds last week, and we beat them both which were great results.
“We’ve got high hopes for Luke Dreher, Kian Flanagan is playing for the Republic of Ireland, Nikola Tavares is for Croatia and Nya Kirby is away with England now. This is what we have to embrace as there are some good footballers there.
“They’re learning their trade and the good has outweighed the bad. The games where they’ve dug in and got results have been terrific and there have been disappointments along the way, but there will be because they’re young and naïve at times. As long as they’re working week in, week out in the under-23s it’ll be a benefit for them.
“I should be working with these players for the next 18 months as I see a cut-off point at 19 where they should be in and around the first-team’s plans or out on loan, so it’s important we get the next group of 15 or 16 year olds through now which will be healthy for the football club.”