SOUTHEND United have offered all nine of their second year scholars new contracts in a bid to form an under 21 team at the club next season.

Defenders Dan Matsuzaka, Jordan Williams and Emmanuel Adeyeye, midfielders Freddie Gard, Macauley Keating, Ross Johnson and Harry Norman plus wingers Nico Cotton and Brandon Scott have all been handed new deals.

And head of youth Ricky Duncan believes it is a huge step forward for Blues as they bid to secure category two status.

“The chairman wants us to be a category two club so we need to start putting the plans in place for that, which includes having an under 21 team,” explained Duncan.

“Our development has always been good but we’ve decided to really push it on now.

“We’ve taken up the options on all of the second years so we can develop an under 21 squad and this is something really exciting for the football club.”

Duncan has been locked in talks with manager Phil Brown, chairman Ron Martin and chief executive Steve Kavanagh to discuss how best to move the scheme forward.

And Duncan believes the introduction of an under 21 team will also provide the Shrimpers with more opportunities to produce their own players.

“We want to continue the pathway of development from the academy and we will work with the manager to design a programme which will focus on what we think is missing from players aged between 18 and the first team,” said Duncan.

“We don’t want to be missing out on a really good player who just needed one more year to develop but we also want any boy getting a professional contract here to be knocking on the door of the first team.

“And if we’re doing it right then they will be.”

Blues will be appointing a new coach to run the under 21 team who hope to enter a league with other category three clubs.

Friendlies will also be arranged and the youngsters could feature in the Essex Senior Cup competition.

The reserve side, who have played a number of games this term, will not be affected by the addition of an under 21 team.

And Duncan cannot wait to put it into practise.

“I think this sets a good tone for the club,” said Duncan.

“If we are going to progress then this is something we’re going to need to do.

“As a club I think most people would agree we’re in the wrong league and so is the academy.

“We’re one of the best category three clubs there is but we want to be category two.

“Our staffing levels will need to increase for that to the happen and the facilities will need to improve which is why I think the dome is here now.

“But this is certainly very exciting for all the young players we have on our books.”