Graham Coughlan interview from the Accrington Stanley programme
Overseen by first-team coach Graham Coughlan, Southend United’s development squad have enjoyed a successful season, both in terms of results on the pitch, and in showing a clear pathway for youngsters into the club’s first-team.
None more so than midfielder Jack Payne, who signed his first professional contract in the summer, and has scored almost a goal a game for the development side this season, while also making his mark in Phil Brown’s first-team.
We sat down with Coughlan to discuss the development squad’s season, and how pleased he was to see such unity at the club.
“The development squad has given young players at this football club a clear pathway into the first-team, or at least into an atmosphere similar to that of the first-team.
“We’ve played 20 games this season, mainly friendlies, but also in the Essex Senior Cup, and had a lot of success. Of the 20 games, 14 have been wins, we’ve picked up four draws, and lost just twice.
“One of those defeats was against Harlow Town in the Essex Senior Cup, where a number of under-16 and under-17’s played, while the only friendly one came against Charlton Athletic.
“When you consider we’ve played the likes of Crystal Palace, Ipswich Town and Queens Park Rangers, 14 wins from 20 games is fantastic, and for young players, it’s important to be winning games, no matter who you’re up against.
“Throughout the season we’ve had a mixture of players making appearances for the development side, from Michael Timlin and Kevan Hurst at the start of the season looking to get game time following injuries, to Barry Corr and Conor Clifford while they were suspended.
“We have of course had a number of under-18’s feature, the first-year professionals and third year scholars, as well as members of Steve King’s under-16 side who has been a big help this season in running the development side.
“It’s great to have had a mixture play and in the case of the youngsters, be given the opportunity to be involved with first-team players in a game situation. Whoever it has been has given 100 per cent in terms of effort and attitude, which is great to see.
“It has been very useful for everyone. Tims was coming back from his broken leg at the start of the season, and played in two or three of the development games to build up his fitness before he made his mark in the first-team and became a regular.
“Barry and Conor needed it when they were suspended from the first-team. It allowed them to keep ticking over to make sure they were ready for when they could return to action, while the likes of Freddy Eastwood and Lee Barnard have used it to maintain and build their fitness.
“The first-teamers have of course been in and out, but in our final game of the season last week against Gillingham, we had the likes of Luke Prosser, Adam Thompson and Marc Laird all involved too, helping them to maintain fitness when they’re not in the starting line-up.
“For the first-year professionals and third year scholars, it has been vital in terms of getting game time. Payney, Mitch Pinnock, Seedy Njie, Ryan Auger, Aaron Tatham, Marlon Agyakwa and Jack Edwards, who was the captain of the development side, train with the first-team day in, day out, but aren’t all in the first-team squad on a matchday.
“This has allowed them to get 90 minutes under their belts, while taking on some top sides, and coming up against experienced first-team players from other teams who are working their way back to fitness.
“We’ve also seen Jack Bridge, Jason Williams, Ted Smith and Josh Banton, as well as others, from Ricky Duncan’s under-18’s feature for the development side. They’ve all been involved to some extent with the first-team this season, so the opportunity to be part of the development squad is providing them with a clear pathway.
“I think that is extremely important for youngsters who are joining the club at a young age. They’re able to see that in a few years they could be playing with first-teamers in the development side. It shows that there is real unity at the club, and that the first-team manager is willing to give them an opportunity to impress.
“The attitude and application of every player has been second to none, and they’ve all been a pleasure to work with. We’ve had a number of away trips in which Steve King, Charlie Holt and Luke Hart have all helped out, so I’d also like to thank them for their efforts. Let’s hope for more success next season.”