Andy Millen says the challenge for this year’s crop of Morton Under-20s is not to reclaim the Development League West crown but to follow Lewis Strapp, Scott Tiffoney and Jai Quitongo into the first team.
The Ton teens lifted the title last term and begin their defence tonight with a trip to Stair Park to face Stranraer as they finally raise the curtain on the 2016/17 league campaign.
Of last season’s medal winners, Quitongo, Tiffoney and Strapp have made a first-team breakthrough already this term – and Millen says that is the goal for the Under-17s academy graduates embarking on their first full season as professionals.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s meeting with the Blues, Millen told gmfc.net: “The squad of players have worked hard since they came back for pre-season in Bulgaria and they are ready for the challenge of competing and playing in their league again.
“The boys won the league last year and did that really, really well and I was really proud of them, but It’s not about defending the title. It’s good that the kids get into a winning habit, but the most important thing for me is seeing boys you’ve worked with, be it a year or two years, progressing,improving and hopefully reaching their first-team goal.
“The bottom line is they can win as many leagues as they want at this age but the first-team is the most important thing. They’ve got to try and get a step on the ladder towards that, which is a big, big step for any young boy. There is a big jump from development football into the first-team at Morton Football Club in the Championship.
“It’s not about Andy Millen’s Under-20s team, it’s about the club. The development league is about individuals trying to improve, trying to make a name for themselves, and getting onto the periphery of Morton’s first-team squad
“We have had that. Strappy is only 16 and Tiffoney has just turned 18, there’s Quitongo. You’ve got to complement the manager for being brave enough to give them an opportunity. Those boys, technically speaking, still have a year or two left with me.
“For the kids who have come up, the five or six of them, from Derek Anderson’s Under-17s that is their challenge. They have an opportunity in two years to make an impression in the Under-20s and then catch the manager’s eye. It’s all about making steps on the ladder, the top of which is the first-team.”
Millen’s side start with an arduous away trip to Stranraer this evening, and the 51-year-old former Hibs, Kilmarnock, Ayr United and Morton midfielder expects his young group to be chomping at the bit to get started.
He added: “It will be a difficult game and we’ve got a journey, but the pleasing thing that the players should be looking forward to is that they are playing the game on the pitch [Stair Park]. It’s great that Stranraer are playing it there.
“We’re not speaking about what happened last season. That’s gone, that’s history. They’ve done well and got their pat on the back – now it’s a new season and they will be a scalp. Everybody will be wanting to turn over Morton. If we don’t compete then we’ll have a hard night.”
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