The U’s successful conveyor belt

Macauley Bonne, who has been starring both for the first team and youth team this season

Macauley Bonne, who has been starring both for the first team and youth team this season - Credit: Archant

The conveyor belt between Colchester United’s youth team and senior squad has never been busier, or more productive.

And that is a tribute to owner Robbie Cowling’s investment in the U’s Academy, the work of Academy manager Tony Humes and development coach Richard Hall, and also the willingness of first team boss Joe Dunne to blood the club’s young talent.

The U’s Under-18s powered to a 4-1 win at AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday evening, in the first round of the FA Youth Cup.

This victory in South London ensured a safe passage through to round two, when Plymouth will be the visitors, before a possible third round trip to Aston Villa.

The success over the Dons, achieved courtesy of a first minute opener from Sammie Szmodics, a brace from Macauley Bonne, and a fourth from Tom Lapslie, also extended the Under-18s’ remarkable record this season – 13 wins from 13 league and cup games, with three or more goals scored in 12 of them.

“The lads are having a really good season,” enthused Academy manager Humes.

“They did well towards the end of last season in the Category Two games programme and although we have effectively dropped a level, in terms of the teams we are playing against this season, they have continued to do well.

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“Ultimately, we will be judged not by the results, but by the players we have progressing through into the senior team.

“The fact that we are enjoying both at the moment, makes it doubly satisfying.

“Over the last 18 months, six lads have come through (from the Academy) to be regulars in the senior squad, and that’s terrific.”

Last season, and at the start of this campaign, the quartet of Alex Gilbey, Drey Wright, Tosin Olufemi and Freddie Ladapo all made the breakthrough at League One level.

And more recently, teenagers Bonne and Szmodics have hit the headlines with their cameo roles for Dunne’s men.

Szmodics has caught the eye with his bustling displays as a late substitute, while striker Bonne has already bagged two goals in four senior outings, with sweet headers against Peterborough United and Sheffield United.

“I’m not surprised how well Macca (Bonne) and Sammie (Szmodics) have done in the first team,” continued Humes.

“It’s a big step up, but they have worked their socks off to get there, in their quest to succeed. I suppose the only surprise is how quickly it has all happened, in that they have got their chances sooner than expected.

“I think you can say that the current success of the Academy has coincided with the new regulations coming in, affecting the budget for first team, with the first team manager having restrictions on the number of players he can bring in.

“They go hand-in-hand, and hopefully the chairman’s (Cowling’s) investment is bearing fruit.

“The lads are certainly playing without fear, which is reflected in the number of goals they have scored.”

The under-18s have plundered 45 goals in 13 games.

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