WANDERERS Under-18s coach David Lee believes the performance of the club’s youngsters this season bodes well for the future.
Lee and fellow ex-Wanderer Tony Kelly have overseen a positive second half of the campaign for the academy teenagers that has seen then beat elite sides like Manchester United (twice), Manchester City and Liverpool.
And while the emphasis is always more on development than the actual results, Lee says it backs up the work they are doing at the Eddie Davies Academy to provide the foundation and nurture talent towards future first-team football.
Last season, the U18s made it all the way to the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup with a stunning run that included an incredible 8-4 triumph at Tottenham.
Nine of the group of second years from that squad were handed extended contracts and eight have gone on to figure for the Under-21 development team this campaign.
With a new-look squad for Lee and Kelly, the season began disappointingly with just two points from their first 12 FA Premier League U18s matches.
But since breaking their duck with a 4-1 victory against Wolves just before Christmas, they have turned around their fortunes with 10 wins and just three defeats in the league.
Lee revealed a switch back to familiar training methods helped the mid-season revival. And as discussions begin over who will be kept on for 2014/15, Lee is confident the success can continue at the Lostock base.
He told The Bolton News: “As part of the new EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) for academies, we restructured our timetable at the start of the season.
“But we found it wasn’t working for us as the results showed.
“We reverted back to how we used to work in training and development and it has helped as the turnaround shows.
“We have had some fantastic results against elite teams and it just proves to us what we are doing is right.
“For the remaining three games this season, from my perspective, I hope to continue to develop the players as individuals and as a group.
“Of course, it is the time of year when we start to discuss players’ futures and that process is underway.
“Hopefully, we will see a lot stay on and develop further at the club.”
Not only did nine of 10 players at the end of their scholarships get extended deals last summer, many have gone on to be U21s regulars and other academy graduates have pushed on even higher to the first-team ranks.
Nine of the development squad starting XI that beat Arsenal 2-1 at the County Ground in Leyland on Monday had come through the ranks, including matchwinner Andy Kellett.
Kellett and fellow reserve defender Oscar Threlkeld were also on the bench for the first-team against Wigan last weekend. And with forthcoming Financial Fair Play restrictions putting even more emphasis on the development of youth, Lee says it is refreshing to see youngsters breaking through.
He added: “Managers will always have to buy players but if academies can help it will benefit the football club.
“We can only put our opinions forward about who can push on but I think it proves we have made good decisions when eight of the nine kept on last year have been in the development squad.
“Our ratio of players progressing is good and it is pleasing that the hard work from everyone at the academy pays off. We have others who have gone on to train with the first team and it is fantastic for the club and everyone involved and long may it continue.”