Academy coach Miguel Llera says that the upcoming matches with Belper Town and Handsworth Parramore will provide his squad with much needed game time, ahead of their next EFL Youth Alliance North East fixture.
Llera’s men don’t resume league action until Saturday, January 27, when they travel to Doncaster Rovers, so the matches come at a good time, with the Derbyshire Senior Cup tie with Belper tomorrow night (7.45pm) allowing the players to showcase what they can do on the Proact playing surface.
Speaking exclusively to iFollow, Llera said: “It’s important for them not just because we’re playing in the first team’s stadium, but because we are competing against men.
“It’s a great experience to try and get as far as we can in the competition, what we’re looking for is the next step.
“We’re trying to arrange fixtures against local teams and introduce them to that environment.
“This is something that we’re looking forward to as unfortunately our last two league games have been postponed.”
Both fixtures against the non-league neighbours will also allow Llera to assess his options as he looks for a strong second half of the season.
“Last week we played against Sheffield United’s development side and we put in a really good performance. Now we’re looking to get the best fit for the team,” Llera explained.
“The squad is now 75% first-year scholars and before Christmas it was unusual as the lads were on their level two coaching course and we couldn’t train properly for a while, so these fixtures will be good for their fitness levels.
“We’d like to be playing every week, but we have to adapt and that’s why we’re trying to get games.”
Not all the players have been without the match day experience since the Christmas break, as midfielders Charlie Wakefield and Ify Ofoegbu have both been on the substitutes bench for the first team over the last couple of weeks.
And Llera hopes that both Ofoegbu and Wakefield will be able to pass on the knowledge they’ve gained onto the rest of the squad.
“Those two players are going to make our team better,” the Spaniard said. “They have to transfer all of their first team experience to the youth team and that’s what we’ll be demanding off them.
“They have been close to the first team and I’m going to be demanding more off them. They are both doing well.”
With no further involvement in either the EFL Youth Alliance Cup or the FA Youth Cup, Llera’s team have 13 games remaining between now and the end of the season.
The Spireites currently find themselves in sixth place in their division, 11 points behind leaders Oldham Athletic – whom they have beaten twice already this campaign.
Those victories over the Latics helped the youth team to a run of seven wins from their last 10 fixtures in 2017 and such good form has seen Llera set his men a target of improving their position as well as improved individual performances.
“My target is too finish as high as we can in the league,” he said. “I want us to try and win the league, but you have to remember that we’re here for developing players for the first team, so in this part of the season we’re going to be focusing more on the individual.
“We will have a lot of young players involved, as we’re looking forward to next season, there’ll be four or five players involved from the U16s, it’ll be beneficial for them, for me and for the club.
“Getting that four-six months experience for those who’ve already got the scholarships is going to be really important for them as they’ll close the gap for what they’ll find.
“I’ve already told them that if we finish high up in the league it’ll be because we’re doing well, and they’ll get a lot more minutes.”
Meanwhile, Llera has also urged the club’s second-year scholars to continue their hard work, as the decision on their futures with the club later in the season draws near.
He added: “They have to do their best; the decisions will be made by Mark Smith and Jack Lester and they have to impress the first team manager.
“Jack is a person who likes to see us play and I think it’s really important for him to see our games, it’s a massive boost for the players when he comes to watch us.”