Barry Nicholson says Fleetwood Town’s development squad is performing better than could ever have been expected in its first season.
Town’s young guns pulled off a 1-1 draw with Premier League Burnley on Tuesday, former Squires Gate man Jack Sowerby on target against a side which included first-team ace Marvin Sordell.
Not only have results for Nicholson’s squad been gradually improving but the project is paying dividends for the club, with a number of players making their first-team breakthrough.
“I think it’s going better than anybody could have hoped,” said Nicholson, who hung up his boots at the end of last season to take charge of the squad.
“It was tough going at first and we had a lot of trialists coming through. It was hard to get a proper look at people in that environment.
“But we’ve gradually added to the squad. We’ve brought players in for key positions and the lads are doing really well.”
Nick Haughton, who scored his first Football League goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Sheffield United, is the most high- profile player to have come out of the development set-up.
But Ashley Hunter and Tyler Forbes have also gained vital first-team experience.
And Nicholson believes they are showing the way for others. He said: “The gaffer (Graham Alexander) is very involved.
“He watches pretty much every game and we talk every week about who has been on it, who has not and who could be brought through.
“The lads see what Nick, Tyler and Ash are doing and they know they have the chance too. They see the response Nick gets from the fans.
“They want to see exciting young players and exciting football, and that’s what they’re getting from the young lads.”
Sowerby is another on the fringes of the first team and Nicholson believes the 19-year-old could prove a real talent.
“We’ve done a lot of work with him since he came in,” said Nicholson. You can see what he can do. He’s scored twice for us already. He’s a natural finisher, one of the best within the group, but he’s versatile too. He can play anywhere up front or across the midfield.
“He’s travelled with the first team a few times and I’m sure he’ll get his chance.”
Town last week swooped for teenager Akil Wright, like Hunter a product of non-league Ilkeston.
And Nicholson believes the club’s strategy of bringing youngsters from below the professional ranks is a strong one. We’ve brought in Akil, who hass played his first game and looked strong,” Nicholson said of the holding midfielder.
“We’re out there looking in non-league, trying to catch that gem.”
It’s paid off in the past for Fleetwood with Jamie Vardy and there are others out there.
“We’ve just got to make sure the players we have with us here work hard and give them the best possible chance.”