On Tuesday night, 20-year-old Steven Alzate and 19-year-old Aaron Connolly made impressive debuts for the first-team with an assist and a goal respectively in the 2-1 win at Bristol Rovers.
The pair drew praise from head coach Graham Potter, and Ashworth has also welcomed the debuts. He sees it as the beginning of more than five years’ hard work coming to fruition.
He said, “Firstly I am delighted for both Steven and Aaron. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work over many years and both have been waiting for an opportunity to show what they’re capable of with the first team.
“I am equally delighted for our academy staff. Nobody was more proud on Tuesday night than our academy manager John Morling and under-23 coach Simon Rusk.
“A lot of hard work has gone in over the last five years, and John, Simon and all the staff in the academy deserve a huge amount of credit for that, while for our fans it’s fantastic to see a buzz around two young players stepping up into the first team and making an impact.
“Credit also goes to Graham. He’s been brave enough to put them in the team and trust them, and they didn’t let him down. He’s also got his squad together so that our younger players can see they will have the opportunities, if they put the hard work in on the training ground.
Ashworth also sounded a warning, not to expect too much, too soon from the club’s young players — while he also spoke about how excited he is by the club’s loan programme.
“This time last year, several of our young players played in the same round of the cup and didn’t establish themselves in the first team, so it is up to the young players to grab any opportunity given to them.
“It’s important to create the right environment to let the players develop in the right way and we don’t want to put too much pressure on our younger players, but I genuinely believe we are now starting to see the impact of the club’s long-term investment in the academy at first-team level.
“Our younger players who are out on loan have made really strong starts with their respective clubs. We have several players on loan and playing in the EFL, including several in the Championship, two in the second tier of the Bundesliga and one in the Eredivisie.
“In addition we have Percy Tau out on loan with Club Brugge and looking forward to Champions League football this season; Alexis Mac Allister, making great strides with Boca Juniors and being called into the Argentine senior squad; and Billy Arce in Ecuador with SC Barcelona.
“Equally we should remember a number of the talented players we have coming through in our under-23 and under-18 squads, who haven’t gone out on loan that we feel the right stage of their development is to stay here with our own teams.
“The club has recruited well in this way and made several long-term investments in these players, and they all have the potential to be very good for us in the future.”