Fast-track for the quick developers

Barry Nicholson
Barry Nicholson
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Barry Nicholson has told his Fleetwood young guns the door to League One football is open to them ... if they want it enough.

Town last week revealed they were moving away from buying expensive and experienced star names and looking towards developing young talent.

And that’s music to the ears of Nicholson, the man in charge of the club’s development squad.

With three of his players – Nick Haughton, Ashley Hunter and Tyler Forbes – having become first- team regulars this past season, Nicholson believes there are great opportunities for more of his group to break through, with manager Graham Alexander taking a keen interest.

Nicholson said: “To be fair to the manager, he’s been very close to the development squad. He’s been to nearly ever game.

“He feels it’s important to be there watching the lads and I think it’s important too. He’s stuck to his word with that.

“He takes a really keen interest in the lads. For a young player in the development squad that is key – that the manager is watching them and there’s a chance every week.

“They have to try to impress me in training. Every day the manager asks who was at it and who wasn’t.

“There’s a great chance for them next year, with what the club is trying to achieve. It’s up to them to step up and grab the opportunity.

“We can support them as much we can, but at the end of the day it’s up to them to show how much they want it.”

It’s not yet a year since Nicholson was appointed to head up the newly created development squad but the group is already paying dividends for Town.

Former Preston midfielder Nicholson, who spent a season as a player at Highbury, admits that having three of his players graduate to the first team is a far cry from his early days in the job.

“It’s been really good,” he said. “We’ve got two or three lads into the first team squad. It’s been more beneficial than we could ever have imagined at the start of the season.

“It all seems very different from July last summer, when we were still scrapping and scraping to get a squad together.

“But we managed to do that. We’ve come a long way from throwing that new team together.

“I remember getting beaten 3-0 in our first game, when we almost didn’t have squad, and thinking, ‘There’s a long way to go.’

“But we’ve recruited really well and got some great lads together.

“We’ve beaten some clubs’ academy teams, including Premier League academy teams, in recent weeks. The season has finished on a high.”

That season-ending high was a run of three victories over Premier League academies: Burnley, Liverpool and Aston Villa.

Nicholson admits such results are a great confidence boost but the real measure of his success is to see players making their way into League One.

He said. “We always look at the performance being more important than the score but it was great for the lads to get those results.

“When you find yourself in a situation when you’re winning with five minutes to go, you try to see it out and get the victory because it’s fantastic for these lads.

“To be beating teams like Aston Villa and Liverpool – it’s amazing for them.

“But the real goal is to push them into the first team as soon as possible. The performance really is what comes first.”

And the development squad chief has high hopes for a number of his other charges in the coming months.

He said: “We’ve had other lads involved in the first team as well as those who have played.

“Akil Wright has been involved, Keano (Deacon) has travelled and Josh Green. They’ve all be around there and it’s nice to see.”

Nicholson is hoping to add to his group over the summer, with former Metz striker Vamara Sanogo and ex-Preston youngster Eddie Dsani already on board.

It’s all part of a big summer of planning in the hope of producing talent to sustain Fleetwood’s League One push.

“We’re still looking at players,” admitted Nicholson. “We’ll go through training regimes and look at analysis. We’ll do whatever we can to make sure we add to this group.

“It’s probably just tweaking a few little things to give the lads the best possible opportunity.

“We’ll look at that over the summer and come back again.

“We’re looking forward to getting into the new training ground too, having our own base and being able to work the boys as long as we please.

“It’s going to be a good break for the summer but I’m looking forward to getting back.”