The progress of Jack Collison and James Tomkins was underlined by another strong showing for the reserves this week.
The two talented teens, who both played for 90 minutes in the 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa on Monday, are perhaps the ones to watch for 2008 at the Boleyn Ground, with both already being involved in the first team for the New Year's Day fixture at Arsenal. Against Villa, Collison had a hand in Julien Faubert's quickfire goal, while Tomkins, usually a central defender, did not look out of place at right-back.
Reserve-team manager Kevin Keen is well placed to judge how the two have fared this season, having seen central midfielder Collison excel as his captain and Tomkins cope with recovering from a shoulder injury to become a regular. "Jack and James have really come on this year in terms of their physical attributes but also their knowledge of playing - just simply by training with the first team every day," he said.
"They are two lads who work really hard so it is great credit to them that they have forced their way into the squad and to the bench and in Jack's case got on at Arsenal. They are two good young players who are the future of our football club and will hopefully improve even more."
Keen also had a word of praise for left-winger Kyel Reid, who nearly made an impact off the bench against Manchester City last Saturday. His excellent cross picked out Dean Ashton in the closing stages and the No9 was only denied the winner by a good save. It underlined that Reid can be a threat but Keen recognised it is hard for youngsters to make an impact. "Kyel has been in and out, played for the first team and come back out. Hopefully he will keep improving and again be another asset for the future."
Behind the trio of Collison, Tomkins and Reid, there are a host of other talented youngsters coming through. For example, in attack there are Jack Jeffery and Freddie Sears - with the former playing the full 90 minutes against Aston Villa and the latter coming off the bench after another goal for the Under-18s at the weekend. On Jeffery, Keen said: "JJ has come back from Hampton & Richmond, where he scored a couple of goals and Alan Devonshire has given me a glowing report. He is the sort of lad who will keep working hard and get the best out of what he has got."