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Dons U-21s in new league

13 June 2014

Neal Ardley praises development idea

Neal Ardley has welcomed an opportunity for the Under-21s to play competitive football on a regular basis after confirmation that AFC Wimbledon will enter a new league next season.

The Dons have been accepted into the Final Third Development League for season 2014/15 and they will compete in the inaugural Southern Division with AFC Bournemouth, Luton Town, Cambridge United, Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Peterborough and Portsmouth.

AFC Wimbledon set-up an Under-21s development squad last summer, but they were restricted to friendly games and only played occasional competitive matches in the Premier League Cup and county cup competitions.

Will Nightingale, who is pictured centre with Neal Ardley (left) and Academy Manager Jeremy Sauer (right), progressed through the club’s development squad to sign a professional contract and it’s hoped that further players will be able to make the next step.

Neal Ardley believes that regular competitive fixtures will make a big difference in achieving that ultimate aim. The Dons will be playing 14 games in the division with home and away fixtures against the other seven teams.

“The idea was put to us as a category three club halfway through last season and I thought it would be a great idea for us to be involved,” said Neal. “We want the Under-21s to play to win. They are coming out of that development phase and you want them to know about the importance of winning and the roles and responsibilities associated with that. They can then be ready for the first-team and the pressures that they will be under.

“The hardest part in the development of young players is between the ages of 17 and 21. It’s vitally important because that’s the hardest jump to get into the first-team. I’m trying to help the club make that as strong as we can and this league will be a massive plus in that respect. Hopefully, that conveyor belt that we want will happen very soon.”

  Academy Manager Jeremy Sauer said: “The first year of the Under-21 set-up was all about building the foundations and we want to progress this further now. Being a part of this league is a formalisation of the development squad. It’s all about the young players learning to win after stepping up from the academy so that Neal can trust them to play in the first-team.”

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