Rovers Under-23s will become Rovers Under-21s following a Premier League rule change for next season.

The age bracket has been reduced ahead of the 2022/23 season, having been an Under-23s competitive for the last five years.

The change will fall in line with the EFL Trophy, with Premier League clubs able to enter an Under-21 side into the competition.

That was despite the two divisions of Premier League 2 being contested between Under-23s side.

Rovers will again be playing in Premier League 2 next season, the top-flight of Academy football, for the fifth successive year.

It followed their promotion in 2017/18, with an excellent turnaround in form in 2022 seeing them finish ninth last term, with seven wins in their final 10 games.

Although the age limit has been dropped from Under-23s to Under-21s, the number of overage players will rise from three to five, negating the impact on sides.

For Rovers it will matter little, as since January 2021 they have significantly reduced the average age of their Under-23s side.

Instead, the focus has been on loaning out second year professionals, and older, and using the Under-23s to blood more youngsters.

Scholars George Pratt, Patrick Gamble, Ash Phillips, Georgie Gent, Jake Batty, Adam Wharton, Harrison Wood and Harry Leonard were all regulars in Sheron’s side last season.

The likes of Louie Annesley, Dan Pike, Sam Burns and Connor McBride were all loaned out to gain further experience in senior football, as part of the switch in emphasis.

It has largely been the case for Rovers that players stepped straight from the Under-23s to first-team football, with Ryan Nyambe, Joe Rankin-Costello, Lewis Travis and John Buckley among those to make the transition without going out on loan.

But Scott Wharton and Hayden Carter are among those to benefit from their experiences out on loan, and Rovers could look to utilise that market much more.

However, with the Academy taking on a greater importance on the back of the appointment of director of football Gregg Broughton, Rovers’ top prospects could see a pathway into the first-team sooner than imagined.

Jon Dahl Tomasson will take an extended squad to Portugal later this week, which will include the likes of Phillips, Batty, Wharton and Leonard, among others.

Broughton said: “To have over 500 games with an Academy graduate in the squad, to have almost 40 per cent of league minutes last year, played by Academy graduates and still almost getting into the play-offs, absolutely fantastic.

“The foundations are so strong, the staff are in place, the Academy and the great work they have done, everything is in place.

“I’ve met with the Academy staff and got their opinions on which players are well thought of, and we’re taking a large group to Portugal so we can have a look, and make sure we’re looking internally before we look externally.”

Head of Academy Stuart Jones has outlined his excitement at the appointment of Broughton, strengthening the importance of the youth system at the club, having again achieved Category One status for a further three years.

Of the Premier League's changes, Jones explained: “About 18 months ago we looked at changing the model.

“The average age was a lot older, we’ve brought that down, and I think it’s important that older pros, if they’re not around the first-team, it’s about getting them some loan experience.

“That’s important for their development.

“It’s then about pushing through the younger players, challenging them, and we struggled early on, but I think the second half of the season once they grasped the league and the demands of that we did really well with a young group.”


Gain unlimited access to the Lancashire Telegraph website with a premium digital subscription with a one month FREE trial