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Gareth: Development squad showing incredible progress

Boss impressed by emerging talents.

16 December 2021

Gareth Ainsworth said he's immensely proud of the countless success stories emerging from the club's development programme, with Anis Mehmeti and Chris Forino recently being rewarded with new contracts, and teenager Ali Al-Hamadi earning his first call-up to the matchday squad last weekend.

The Blues boss watched a Chairboys XI triumph 5-0 over a local academy side in midweek and said the performances in that game proved the squad's strength in depth, which might be called upon if injuries or illnesses strike.

"Part of our identity is about giving youngsters a chance," he told the press on Thursday morning. "It was brilliant to see the way they played on Tuesday in the practice match. It also gave us a chance to give minutes to players like Daryl (Horgan) and Sullay (Kaikai) who have been on the fringes lately, and although of course they'd like more time in the first team, they understand why that's been the case because we've been on a good run.

"Daryl ran the show from midfield, Sullay scored a great free-kick, and it was good to see Ali, Tjay (De Barr) and Jack (Wakely) all on the scoresheet too. Tjay and Ali are really pushing hard for a place in the squad and we'd love to get them into the 18, but there's a lot of competition all through the squad.

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"We're seeing real progress from that development group, and they're all putting themselves in the frame for the first team. The club as a whole is coming on and I'm proud of Sam Grace and Matt Bloomfield for what they're doing to develop these young lads. We've got a real underbelly of talent here and with the pandemic ramping up again, you never know who might be available so everyone needs to be ready."

The squad's strength is always a hot topic for debate around the time of the January transfer window, which is just around the corner after the festive period, but Ainsworth doesn't expect much business as the Blues look to maintain consistency with the current crop of Chairboys in place.

"We've got a couple of targets but I don't think we'll lose anyone unless a ridiculous offer comes in," he said. "We're hell-bent on keeping the squad as strong as it can be, and we want to keep everyone together and go for promotion.

"We're flying at just under two points a game and if you keep that up for the whole season then you tend to be promoted. We want to stay consistent, keep our values and identity, and the boys believe they can win every match when they cross that white line."

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Next up are Bolton Wanderers - for the second time in a month - with the Chairboys visiting the north-west looking for their first league double of the season, but Ainsworth knows to expect a tough test after narrowly overcoming the 'other' Wanderers 1-0 at Adams Park in November.

"We're five unbeaten now and it'd be nice to turn some draws into wins to keep us going strong," he said. "Bolton will be a tough game - they've got a good side up there as we saw when they came to us. We've got a couple of players back available again after illness and we want to go up there with the strongest squad possible to kick off the Christmas period with a win and give us momentum going into the three games over Boxing Day and the New Year."


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