Fleetwood Town head coach Joey Barton has warned his young players not to squander their opportunity with the club.
Barton fielded a number of youngsters in Wednesday’s Leasing.com Trophy win against Liverpool’s U21s.
Players including Ryan Rydel, Barry Baggley, Dan Mooney, Nathan Sheron and Harvey Saunders were all handed starting spots alongside the more experienced Matt Gilks, Ashley Eastham, Peter Clarke and Ash Hunter.
Clarke found the net in the 1-1 draw before Barton’s players won 4-3 on penalties, after which the head coach had a simple message for some of his starting XI.
Barton said: “I said to them, I remember being a young player myself, you want one opportunity.
“Our lads have got to understand that, you’ve got to take those opportunities when they come along.
“The level that the first team is moving, the way the first team is improving, if you don’t improve then you’ll get left behind.
“If you get left behind from Liverpool, you can come to a Fleetwood, you can come to sides in League One, maybe League Two.
“If you leave Fleetwood, you have to get a job and supplement your football with a job on the side because the drop-off isn’t where you would expect it to be.
“It’s not like you’re just going to drop into League Two, it’s not like you’re just going to drop into the Conference, you’re talking about going right back to the bottom of the pyramid and working your way back up.
“A few of our lads need to realise you’ve got to dedicate yourself to your profession; what you sacrifice now will be worth it if you can transfer it onto the pitch and transfer it into an opportunity.
“Nights like tonight are perfect for us to say this is how hard you’ve got to work and maximise this opportunity.
“It’s a strange game but also a great opportunity for us to help develop our younger players.
“Jay Matete did well, Shayden Morris did well; I’m really impressed with his attitude, his application, the way he wants to learn.
“Your 17, 18, 19-year-olds, we have a group coming behind that, so we’re going to have to make some harsh decisions whether they are kept in and around the first-team picture or we move them out and start to develop the group behind that.
“Their destiny will rest in their own hands; if you’re good enough, you want it enough and dedicate yourself enough to your profession, it rewards you; football pays you back.”