DANNY Heale says he’s happy to give young players a chance at Canvey – despite predecessor Steve Tilson’s reluctance to do so.

Tom Strickland, 17, came off the bench for his debut on Saturday and scored the Gulls’ equaliser minutes later to help them to an eye-catching win over league leaders Wealdstone.

The left-winger got his chance because injuries, suspensions and a trip overseas for striker Spencer Bellotti had depleted the squad.

Heale says he was happy to dip into their young talent pool – not a policy adopted by ex Southend United pro Tilson, who elected to name himself at the age of 46 on the bench last season, rather than blood inexperienced players who he felt were not ready for the Ryman Premier division.

Heale said: “As far as I am concerned: if they are good enough they are old enough. It’s why we have always tried to develop young players at Canvey.

“We also had (17-year-old right back) Tyler Hubbard on the bench on Saturday and we’re happy he can do a job for us if needed. When I was a youngster at Canvey under Jeff King I got my chance with the first team at 16 or 17 and that gave me a lot of confidence.

“We threw Strickland on with 10 minutes to go and he’s got an important goal. Hopefully he can kick on now and be a leading light for others.”

It was all particularly sweet for Strickland as his parents delayed a flight to their home in Australia to watch him play, and he celebrated with them in the crowd after he scored his 84th minute equaliser in the 3-2 win for Canvey.

Heale was also delighted to see striker John Sands return to action after a lengthy injury lay-off because of a broken jaw.

He said: “John gives us an extra dimension. He played 85 minutes and played a big part in our first two goals. He’ll only get fitter and better now. It’s great to have him back.”

Weather permitting – as always at the moment – Canvey will return to league action at home to Lewes this evening.

The Rooks drew 2-2 at Leiston on Saturday and are 10th in the table and three points ahead of 12th-place Canvey.

Heale said: “What we need to do now is go on a run because we have not been getting the rub of the green and we really should have more points.

“We have 20 games to go and I think 13 wins from those games will get us in the play-offs. It’s going to be hard but we believe we can do it.”

Defender Ellis Sands has left Canvey in a bid to find regular first-team football, and striker Moses Ademola has returned to parent club Dover Athletic after a two-month loan spell which saw him score four goals and claim a number of assists.