Excitement at Mansfield Town Academy after latest first team debut

John Dempster
John Dempster

Mansfield Town Academy manager John Dempster said last week’s first team debut for striker Jordan Graham had given everyone a huge lift after boss David Flitcroft again showed he will give young talent a chance.

Dempster also said he was hopeful more youngsters were getting closer to the standard required which he believes will be accelerated by the opening of the new training ground next month.

On Graham’s 65-minute full debut in the 2-1 Checkatrade Trophy win over Wolves U21s, he said: “It shows if you prove you are at a reasonable level and good enough there is opportunity here.

“Jordan did okay against Wolves and when you look at him and the likes of Lewis Gibbens, who made his debut earlier on this season and performed really well, it gives motivation to all the Academy staff and the players up and down the age groups.

“It shows there is a pathway there if you work hard and are committed to the football club.”

Wolves youngsters made Graham and his team mates fight hard for the win in the second half and Dempster said: “You’d expect that from a Premier League club, especially a Premier League club with the history they have got of producing their own.

“Not only do they have some players with Premier League experience, they also had Elite Academy players mixed in with them.

“It was a brilliant test for Jordan on his full debut and I am sure everyone in the football club is delighted for him.

“You must never get carried away. Jordan has a lot of hard work to do.

“But he has developed nicely over the last few years through the U21 coaching he’s had through Richard Cooper and Mike Whitlow.

“He is being taken to the next level now by the coaching of the gaffer and the first team staff.”

He continued: “The big thing now is that he is playing alongside senior pros on a day-to-day basis which is something we can’t give at the academy.

“Once they are ready to fly the nest and join the first team environment, that environment certainly brings a young player on really quickly.

“We have had four or five players as well as Jordan and Lewis who have been up training with the first team, some on a regular basis and some a bit more ad hoc.

“We are confident we have talented players in the academy. But we are realistic that there is a massive gap between U18s football and men’s football. That’s why we try to prepare the players the best we can in the U21s programme with intense training and also try to get them out into non-League to get them vital game time in an environment where three points matters.

“They are also playing against men, so physically they are getting a lot of returns from the games they are out on loan at.

“Hopefully over time, and hopefully soon, we will start to bear the fruits of a lot of the hard work that’s gone on at the academy over the last three seasons, now going into the fourth.”

Dempster can’t wait for the opening of the new Pleasley training ground.

“It will be big,” he said. “We are very lucky at this minute in time to have the U18s based at Brooksby College, which is an outstanding facility where the players live on site.

“That gives us more time than other academies to work with the players in all the different areas.

“What the new training ground will do is have the U21 players and the U18 players that are excellent to train alongside the first team on a day-to-day basis. It will hopefully bring us all a little closer together and develop the players more efficiently.”

On this season’s new intake of youngsters he said: “It’s a mixed bag. As always with young players there is a lot of inconsistency.

“Some players probably came in flying in pre-season and have had a little dip and the lads that struggled in pre-season have started to find their feet.

“We have been fortunate that we have recruited well again from higher divisions, Premier League and Championship clubs, but we also think we’ve got a couple of little gems we’ve managed to recruit from non-League and grassroots football.

“We are enjoying working with them again and I am sure we can get a lot of quality U18 players through to the U21s and then hopefully onwards to the first team.”