FIVE UNDER-21S RELEASED

Five of our Under-21 squad were released from the club at the end of January, to allow them to find new clubs before the end of the season.

James Ashton, Conor Clifford, Ben Gordon, Rohan Ince and Adam Phillip have all been released from their contracts in advance, with the hope of quickly finding new clubs before hundreds of others find themselves in a similar position around the country.

Head of youth development Neil Bath discussed the thinking behind the move.

'There were two sides to it. There was a group of players whose contracts were up, and we felt it appropriate to tell them now that they will not be offered new deals,' he explained.

'We made a decision from a welfare point of view to tell them early, and pay their contracts up early to put them in a position where they are not in the same situation as many other players at the end of the season, where there could be a couple of hundred guys in the summer looking for new clubs.

'It's a good aftercare thing to do for boys that have been with us a long time, and it gives them the opportunity to go and seek opportunities for their next move.

'Between the staff here we have good contacts within the game and we look to use those to help the boys on their way.'

It also allows the club to blood emerging youngsters in the Under-21 side over the second half of the season.

'For the remainder of the season our Under-21 side could now be quite young, which means the lads could struggle physically, but the result is not so important, it's the development and for them to experience the Under-21 league earlier than others might have done at other clubs,' Bath said. 'It allows us to push them on too, while helping the other lads with their career pathway.'

Bath speaks well of each of the five released players.

James Ashton

'We've had James since he was eight. Unfortunately he has suffered with injuries for a lot of that time. He has matured very quickly physically, and with that there has been several injuries. Last season we chose to give him a year of support, but now James will look for his next move.'

Conor Clifford

'Conor came over from Ireland at Under-15. We've always given him support and help that comes with bringing someone from abroad without their immediate friends and family with them. I hope to keep in contact with him. He had a fantastic time in the Youth Cup for us, and his challenge is to adjust from youth to men's football. He's gaining some fantastic experience with the Irish national team and he's a gusty, determined, hard-tackling player, who has scored a lot of goals. I hope a club goes with him.'

Ben Gordon

'Ben is slightly different from the others because he joined us from Leeds as an Under-16, as a schoolboy international. He has spent a lot of time out on loans, he has some very good experience and won the Scottish Cup, but it was felt he wasn't going to be a Chelsea player, so now we have allowed him to move on.'

Rohan Ince

'Rohan has been with us since he was eight, and even now we are unsure what level he will end up playing at, and unsure of his best position. He has played centre-back and central midfield, and had a lot of injuries on the way. He has done well in both positions, he can play the ball well, is good in the air and likes to break forward. Different clubs may like him in different positions, and we think he can make a living out of the game.'

Adam Phillip

'Adam has been with us since the age of Under-14, but has had a lot of injuries in recent years. He has shown goalscoring ability, pace and strength that a lot of clubs would look for. We'd hope if he can remain injury-free and find the next challenge, that he could make a career out of the game.'

Also in the Academy this week, Under-18 defender Alistair Gordon has been allowed to join Crystal Palace on a permanent deal after a successful trial.

'Alistair has been an extremely popular member of the Academy since joining as an Under-14,' Bath said. 'He has represented England but we decided he wasn't going to be offered professional terms, so we are delighted he has been able to train at Crystal Palace and sign a permanent deal.'