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Matchday the reward for Shrewsbury Town's rising stars

Steve Cotterill has revealed how a place in the senior matchday squad is a reward for Shrewsbury Town academy youngsters.

Shrewsbury Town's Daniel Udoh celebrates scoring.
Shrewsbury Town's Daniel Udoh celebrates scoring.

Town youth team defenders Ben Kaninda, Kade Craig and Callum Wilson have been on the first-team substitutes bench for home games against Sunderland and Charlton.

For former West Brom youngster Kaninda and ex-Birmingham academy junior Craig it was a first involvement in any senior action. Ex-Telford and Derby youngster Wilson has been involved in EFL Trophy action.

The trio, who are all aged 18, are regulars at Sundorne Castle training ground, have impressed for Shrewsbury's under-18s in the EFL Youth Alliance North West this season and both Cotterill and academy boss and first-team coach David Longwell have been keen to show a pathway is available.

Although the youngsters' place in the matchday 18 has been accelerated due to a small senior squad being decimated by injury and suspension, the juniors involved have all merited their spots due to performances in matches and training.

"It's been a huge experience for them," said Cotterill. "What happens is Ben, Kade, Callum, even Charlie (Caton), they're around around. They come and train with us throughout the week.

"So it's not new for them seeing the (first-team) boys, because we have the young kids up to train with us.

"When they train well or go and play well, their reward is to come and train with the first team and be around it and they like that.

"And they are really good lads. Would I have put them on against Sunderland? Probably not.

"With kids you have to be careful not to chuck them in too early in the deep end and they might suffer from it.

"Tom's done well, but he'll be in and out the team, we've got to look after him because he's only a baby, his welfare as well you have to be mindful of."

With starlet Tom Bloxham a regular in the Town side this season having just turned 18, it has been a youthful Shrewsbury squad at times this season. Charlie Caton, 19, is another regular in the squad.

Cotterill has made clear his intentions of lowering Shrewsbury's average age this season.

Unused subs Kaninda, a towering centre-half, Craig, a left-footed centre-back who can play at full-back and right-back Wilson were among the wild celebrations as goal hero Daniel Udoh twice netted for Cotterill's men in games against Sunderland and Charlton to secure four points.

Meanwhile, Cotterill has praised the performance of the returning Josh Vela after the midfielder enjoyed a man-of-the-match display against the Addicks on Saturday.

Vela, last season's player of the year winner, missed more than six weeks with a medial ligament injury but has returned for league fixtures against Cheltenham, Sunderland and Charlton – the latter of which he really caught the eye, prompting Cotterill to claim it 'the real Josh Vela'.

The Shrews boss said: "That's his best game this season. Before the injury, I thought he'd started the season slow.

"Then he had the injury, which brought him to a grinding halt, but Saturday was his best game. That's the real Josh Vela, that we saw."

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