Following on from a second Premier League 2 title success in the space of three years, what lies ahead for David Unsworth’s side this coming season? The under-23s kick-off their title defence on Monday as Leicester City visit Haig Avenue.
It’s quite normal for youth sides to see lots of players coming and going, and it will be no different for Unsworth this year, with several of last season’s key players now out on loan, while others have been released and some young guns have stepped up from the under-18s.
Wingers Josh Bowler and Nathan Broadhead are two of the biggest losses that Unsworth has had to contend with. The pair were instrumental in helping the Blues win the double of the Premier League 2 title and the Premier League Cup, but Bowler will be playing Championship football with Hull City this season, while Broadhead has gone to Burton Albion in League One after some very impressive performances for the first team in pre-season. A third winger, 18-year-old Korede Adedoyin, has also been shipped out on loan to SPL side Hamilton Academical.
Another massive miss for Unsworth will be goalkeeper Joao Virginia, who’s joined Reading on a season long loan.
Some other big departures from the under-23s set up include Bassala Sambou, who moved to Fortuna Sittard in Holland on a free transfer, while Boris Mathis, Joe Hilton, Shayne Lavery, Jack Kiersey and Harry Charsley were all released by the club.
Unlike in previous summers, Unsworth hasn’t spent any money on bringing players in. The only in-bound transfer has been that of 16-year-old Danish centre-back, Sebastian Kristensen, who joins the club from Lyngby – although it remains to be seen whether he’ll feature more with the under 18s or the under 23s.
The rest of Unsworth’s new additions have made the step up from the under 18s, including hot prospects like Kyle John, Kieran Phillips and, of course, the much talked about, Ellis Simms.
A few previously out-on-loan players have also returned to the club, although it remains to be seen whether they’ll still be sent back out to a League One or Two club, or even on an international loan, with the Transfer Window still open for the rest of Europe. Returning players currently include the highly versatile Callum Connolly and Anthony Gordon – the latter of whom starred prominently in preseason.
Of course, there’s also a chance we could see some of the senior players appearing for the under-23s – and it seems likely that Martin Stekelenburg will end up with some appearances in goal, while the likes of former 23’s players, Tom Davies and Mason Holgate, may also get some action with several players ahead of them in the first-team fold.
Players to Watch
It’s set to be an exciting season for the under-23s, with some very talented players amongst the ranks.
Ellis Simms is definitely the one that will capture most people’s attentions after the 18-year-old striker smashed in 37 goals in 26 appearances for the under-18s last season – which even attracted potential interest from Bayern Munich.
19-year-old centre-back, Lewis Gibson, featured a lot in pre-season for the first team and he will want to continue to impress and develop at under-23 level – especially when there is a chance he could yet be called into the first-team picture with only three senior centre-halves available.
Probably the biggest prospect of the lot, though, is 18-year-old Anthony Gordon who, like Gibson, got a decent amount of first team action in pre-season. The attacking midfielder signed a new four-year contract with the club in March and was also been linked with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund last season. He was a member of Unsworth’s squad last season, too, but he now needs to start bossing at this level in order to make the next step up.