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Gillingham manager Neil Harris can see improvements in the condition of the club's youngsters including Bailey Akehurst

Bailey Akehurst has been working hard to get himself in the best shape possible to make an impact - and the manager has already noticed.

The 18-year-old left-back has signed professionally with the club this summer but still has plenty to do. A mid-season injury meant manager Neil Harris didn’t get to see much of him last term, limited to one late appearance off the bench against Sunderland under the current boss.

Bailey Akehurst has been working hard in the off-season Picture: Andy Jones
Bailey Akehurst has been working hard in the off-season Picture: Andy Jones

“Bailey has a lot to do,” said Harris. “Bailey knows that, his parents know that and we know that as a football club but he is one of our players and we see potential in him.

“He is an excellent footballer, physically he has a lot to do but when he came and signed his contract, he looked three inches taller and half a stone lighter, not that he has to grow or thin out, but he looked different physically.

“We are investing in our academy now, time and effort and pound notes. Bailey has been in the gym, all summer with the youth team players and having seen a couple of those boys, they look like different people already. In particular the last 4-6 weeks the first team sports science department are working with the academy to make our players stronger and quicker and more athletic to be ready for league football.

“Bailey looks in good shape. We hope he is ready and he can compete with David Tutonda for the left-back position, but if he is not then we have a plan for Bailey, he has a development programme and that is not just about training with the first team, he has been doing that since he has been fit, those that need minutes will have a plan.

“If it means loaning them out to a local Kent side, that would be our priority, to one of the clubs that we are building ties with. He can go out and play at a level we see as appropriate but it is not just the team at the best level, it is the team who have guys who are going to support his progress.”

Bailey Akehurst in action for Gillingham Picture: Andy Jones
Bailey Akehurst in action for Gillingham Picture: Andy Jones

The club’s youth players have been in over the summer as a knock-on from time lost because of Covid. It’s meant the sports science department have been able to devote more time to those youngsters.

It’s vital those scholars are up to speed for June 22, as Harris will need them in and around the first team squad when pre-season starts.

He said: “The majority of (the second years) will get a chance in the first team straight away because we are not going to have 20 lads in the first team, we will take some lads in on trial who we might think have potential or little gambles, but then there will be an opportunity for four or five scholars straight away to join the group and I know exactly who a couple of them will be already.

“We will need numbers for the sessions and fixtures we have early on and because we believe we have potential in the group this year and we have high hopes of a few of them coming through, if myself and (assistant manager) Livers do our jobs properly with Mark Moss the academy coach and with Bryan Bull's leadership, we have high hopes that they can come through and sign contracts.”

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