EIGHT Southend United youngsters have been handed their first professional contracts.

Striker Matt Rush, winger Terrell Egbri, defender Miles Mitchell-Nelson, goalkeeper Harry Seaden and forward Emile Acquah - who have all featured in the first team this season - have been handed new deals.

And midfielders Jon Benton and O'Shane Stewart and left-back Ide Osimeh have also been offered contracts, much to the delight of Blues' academy manager Ricky Duncan who was quick to praise chairman Ron Martin.

"Ron has had a big part to play in this so I can’t thank him enough,” said Duncan.

"Considering all that’s going on in the world at the moment, it’s really positive news that we’ve got the chance to offer these young players new deals.

"We’re all going through a tough time at the moment but I think this shows the trust the club has in the Academy.”

Left-back Tom Clifford, midfielders Lewis Gard, Harry Phillips and Michael Klass and right-back Rob Howard have also been offered a further year's contract with the option of an additional 12 months.

Clifford started the last eight matches for the Shrimpers while Gard featured in the previous two, the first of which saw him hit the back of the net at Oxford United.

Phillips scored on his debut at Doncaster Rovers and also lined up against Lincoln City before being forced onto the sidelines with a knee injury.

Klass has made 15 first team appearances for the Shrimpers but has not featured so far this season while Howard is still waiting to make his senior debut.

Goalkeeper Callum Taylor, who made his first team debut against Coventry City, has been handed the third year of his scholarship along with defender Ben Dabbs and Reiss Chandler, midfielder Sam Brogan, striker Issa Mpenga and attacking threat Freddy Eastwood, who is the son of the Blues' legend with the same name.