FEATURE: Kids are doing all right under Luton boss Jones
When Jack Senior conveniently clipped the ball out of play to allow Jack Snelus to enter the fray against West Brom U23s in the EFL Checkatrade Trophy last month, the midfielder became the 10th homegrown player to be handed their debut by boss Nathan Jones already.
That’s quite some number, and even more impressive when you take into account that Jones had only been in charge for a few days under nine months when he made the late change.
Snelus joins the likes of Tyreeq Bakinson, Akin Famewo, James Justin, Frankie Musonda, Alex Atkinson, Kavan Cotter, Freddie Hinds, Craig King and record breaker Connor Tomlinson in making their debuts, with the latter Luton’s youngest ever player at just 15 years and 199 days when he came on against Gillingham in the same competition.
To look at just how progressive Jones has been with the youngsters, the previous 10 to make their debuts for the club after coming through the ranks, spanned just over four years, since Colby McAdams came on in the closing stages of the 2-0 FA Cup win over Swindon Supermarine, replacing John-Paul Kissock on December 10, 2011.
Under John Still, not a single homegrown player was used in the 2014-15 campaign, although the previous season was better, with Zane Banton, Tinashe Chabata, Ian Rees and Luke Trotman all making regular appearances in the FA Trophy, although only Banton tasted Conference action, that for a brief few moments against Woking with Luton 4-0 ahead.
Paul Buckle only gave one youngster a debut during his tenure at Kenilworth Road, with Jerome Jibodu starting against Skelmersdale United in the Trophy.
You then have to go back to the 2011-12 season when Richard Money and then Gary Brabin were in charge for the next batch of Town youngsters, with Brett Longden, Jerry Nash, Charlie Smith and Jake Woolley all again making Trophy appearances along with McAdams.
Academy and development manager Andy Awford was full of praise for boss Jones for finally having the bravery to give youth a proper chance at Kenilworth Road, saying: “The gaffer’s stated that the younger players are providing a real good competition to the squad, so it’s really encouraging to see them on the bench, playing, being in and around it.
“They train with that group every day and it’s great that we have a manager who trusts them and is prepared to give them a go, we’re really grateful and really pleased with how it’s going at the moment.
For a club that has prided themselves all through the years on the conveyor belt of talent coming through at the club, from the likes of Curtis Davies, Matthew Upson, Jack Wilshere and Cauley Woodrow, plus Jake Howells, who made over 300 appearances, then it’s a real boost for supporters to see the youngsters making a proper impact.”
Even when Hatters were in the doldrums of the Conference, they continued to produce youngsters, though usually for the benefit of other sides, with Woodrow now at Fulham and the Dasilva brothers heading to Chelsea.
Although it still happens these days, with Cameron McJannet moving to Stoke on deadline day and Charlie Patino being snapped up by Arsenal in 2015, Awford believes under Jones, the route to the first team is there to be seen, meaning the club can keep hold of their young stars.
He added: “Anybody can see that now if you’re good enough and you’ve got the right attitude then there’s definitely a clear pathway here to be able to break through into the first team.
“They know that if they do well they’ll get a chance.
“They have to be patient, that first team world is a win at all costs business, so you have to be ready.
“But the lads who have gone in and played so far have not let anyone down which has been great, so long may it continue. We’ve started something here and we want it to continue.
“From my personal point of view, looking after that development side of it, recruitment is great now.
“We can point to that pathway, to try and recruit the right ones, the ones that are already here that hear that others might be sniffing around, we can say, ‘hang on, there’s a pathway.’
“So from both, the ones that we’re maybe trying to bring in and the ones that are already here, we can point to that pathway, that is clear.
“If you’re good enough, they’re not just going to get a chance because we’ve got a manager that believes, they’ve got to be good enough.
“There will still be some that aren’t unfortunately, but the ones that are we want to keep here, keep working with them, keep developing them, keep improving them and push as many through as we can.”
And with Luton at home to Millwall in the EFL Trophy next Tuesday, who’s to say that Jones won’t be adding numbers 11 and 12 to that list?