IT’S BEEN a big month for Shane Birtles.
The Lancastrian teenager has chalked up his first goals at Under 18 and reserve level for Town – and earned a scholarship spot.
The Bury-based 16-year-old is one of five players taken on to form the new first year of the academy, the others being left-back Greg Pearson, centre-back Adam Field, central midfielder Adam Colton and winger Michael McCaffery, from Sunderland.
Town’s second-year scholars are goalkeeper Damian Eastham, defenders Stephen Powell and Adam Bower, midfielders Ryan Watson and Chris Atkinson, wingers Aiden Chippendale and Josh McClean and striker Jimmy Spencer.
All but long-term injury victim Spencer have figured on reserve teamsheets this season, with Chippendale leading the way with three starts and three appearances from the bench.
Birtles’ big moment came in the totesport.com League East Division clash with York at Emley, when he was drafted in late on and responded by netting twice in a 3-0 victory.
“It was great for Shane to score, because we hauled him in at the last minute,” explained development coach Paul Stephenson.
“He’s a good young player who will be here next season, so we felt we’d have a look at him in a match situation.”
Birtles’ first goal for the Under 18s was a cool finish from Atkinson’s pass in the FA Premier Academy League clash at Sunderland, who were 4-2 winners.
Now, however, the hard work is just beginning, with academy manager Graham Mitchell explaining: “The five new lads should be excited by the opportunity they have but also be prepared to roll their sleeves up.
“They have all featured in some form for the Under 18 side this season, and there’s no doubt they have the potential to succeed, but it is up to them to fulfil it.”
While Town reserves had to make do with runners-up spot in the totesport East Division following Leeds’ 1-0 midweek win over Rotherham at Elland Road, the Under 18s still have two games to play.
They are up against Bolton at Storthes Hall today (11.00) and play host to Barnsley on Tuesday (2.00).