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Development Squad

Young players have to be ready to step up

Damien Johnson says opportunities will be available for players in pre-season

20 May 2019

Damien Johnson insists players have got to be ready when opportunity knocks in pre-season.

Rovers Under-23s signed off the 2018-19 season in style, beating local rivals Burnley 2-0 in the final of the Lancashire FA Senior Cup.

Johnson had a young bench at his disposal that night – namely Jordan Eastham, Sam Barnes, Isaac Whitehall, Luke Brennan and Daniel Pike – whilst others have made their debuts for the Under-23s throughout the campaign.

Several scholars from the Academy are expected to make the step up to the development squad this summer and Johnson says they have to grasp their chance when it comes their way.

“That’s the nature of the process,” said the Under-23s head coach.

“This time last year the team had Lewis Hardcastle, Willem Tomlinson, Matty Platt, Lewis Travis and Joe Nuttall in it and they all moved on.

“You’re looking for the next ones to come in and step up. You’ve got people like Louis Annesley, Sam Barnes and Isaac Whitehall, players like that, who are going to get an opportunity right from the get-go.

“So the onus is on them to adapt quickly from Under-18 football to Under-23 football. That’s something they’ve got to look forward to.”

Further down the progression pathway, Under-23s regulars Tyler Magloire, Dan Butterworth, John Buckley and Joe Grayson all made their debuts for Tony Mowbray’s senior side during the 2018-19 season and will all hope to play a part again next season.

With the first team training camp in Austria now just five weeks away, Johnson says that his group of players should work hard over the close season to maintain their fitness levels in order to give themselves the best possible chance of impressing the Rovers boss upon their return.

“That’s always the carrot – can you be in that travelling squad – and to do that, to give yourself the best chance, you’ve got to look after yourself and be really professional,” added the Northern Irishman.

“Of course, they have to enjoy themselves, but they have to come back fit and really ready to catch the eye from the first day of pre-season.

“That’s something they’ll be challenged with. They’ll all have a close season programme. They know where they want to be, but the manager has got some terrific players in his squad, so they know to get there they’ve got to try and get in amongst them and show that they can compete and help the manager’s squad.

“If there are opportunities, they need to be the ones who are ready to step up and take them.”


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