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A great first season with the Under-21s

16 May 2016

Damien Johnson has thoroughly enjoyed his first season in charge of the club's development squad.

The former Rovers player, who took over the reigns from Eric Kinder when he became head of the club's Academy, has had a successful debut campaign working with the Under-21s.

After reaching the quarter-finals of the U21 Premier League Cup, a strong end to their league programme saw them reach the end of season promotion play-offs, before losing out to a strong Arsenal side at the Emirates.

"I've really enjoyed it, it has been a great experience," said the Northern Irishman.

"It has been really good to be back and everybody has been great with me. To get the opportunity to coach the Under-21s was a dream come true and I've thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

"We are fortunate that we've picked up a very good group who have had a really good grounding at the Academy and I think Eric Kinder has done a great job, and it always helps when you've got a good group and we do.

"But as much as it is about winning games and doing well in the league, ultimately you want to get players in the first team and that is what it is about. At this level, you talk about it being a bit of a finishing school the 21s, so we've got to prepare the lads for the last few bits."

Johnson has also laid down the challenge to his Under-21 squad to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Connor Mahoney and break into the first team.

The young attacker made his league debut towards the end of the 2015-16 season with starts away at Nottingham Forest and at home to Bristol City.

"Ultimately the lads have to be good enough, but we have some lads who we believe are," added the Under-21s boss.

"The challenge is there for them all and the challenge is there for Connor to make himself more of a regular and not to just rest on his laurels after making his first couple of starts.

"We hope Connor is the first of several from this group, and that if they apply themselves, the challenge is there for them, it is how much do they want it. There is talent, it is how much they want to work.

"I would take finishing bottom of the league but having four or five lads in the first team. That is ultimately what it is about. We've got to get players through into the first team and making an impact and being a positive influence on the club and helping the club push forward."

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