SOUTHEND United’s head of academy Ricky Duncan has expressed his pride after seeing more Shrimpers youngsters step up into the first team.

Goalkeeper Nathan Bishop and striker Norman Wabo both made their senior debuts as second half substitutes at Scunthorpe United towards the end of December, while attacking midfielder Harry Phillips was named on the bench for the first time at AFC Wimbledon on Monday.

And Duncan - who has now seen 13 youth products involved in the first team squad this season - believes their call-ups show the progress which has been made.

“We’re starting to see the fruition of 12 seasons worth of hard work now,” said Duncan.

“I think it probably takes seven to 10 years to get everything into place and we’re seeing that now.

“We have a clear pathway in place now for the young players and the way we’ve developed the under-23 team has certainly helped with that.

“The way the manager and chairman have backed that along with the work Kevin Maher has been doing with them means that youth players are no longer just chucked straight into the first team.

“The under-23 set-up has been great for them and we’re seeing the benefit of that now.

“We’re very proud to see the likes of Nathan, Norman and Harry pushing through and it’s all that matters to us really.

“Of course we want to win leagues and have a good cup run but if we’re not bringing players through there’s no point.”

Nico Cotton, Dru Yearwood, Michael Klass and Elvis Bwomono have also made their first team debuts for the Shrimpers this season.

And Duncan is certain more will follow in their footsteps in the years to come.

“It’s an exciting time because we have a real conveyor belt of players coming through the system now,” said Duncan.

“We’re always looking at ways to improve what we can and a lot of hard work has gone on in the academy to get to this point.

“The first team coaches also help with the development of the young players but having the pathway is what matters most.

“If there’s no pathway there’s no point.

“But the fact players are pushing on and getting these opportunities also means we become more of an attractive proposition to other young players.”