TOBI Alabi believes playing competitive U21 football this season can help Millwall’s rising stars mature into first-team contenders.
The Lions have entered a team into a newly-formed Development League for the first time as part of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan.
And Alabi says the competition provides a great platform for the club’s youngsters to prove themselves – particularly when opposition teams field overrage players.
Millwall U21s were beaten 2-0 by their QPR counterparts on Friday evening, but experienced trio Rob Hulse, Kieron Dyer and Alejandro Faurlin all featured and were integral to the Hoops’ victory.
Alabi told NewsAtDen: “There is a massive difference to the reserve league that existed before. It is taken much more seriously.
“I think the emphasis is much more on the youth to push on. Previously, players who didn’t want to play for the first team were forced to play for the reserves and so they weren’t really committed.
“But now everyone wants to compete and play well to try and push onto the first team. It is a very good competition.
“I think we have got a good set of lads. A lot of the other teams will play overage players but we aren’t looking to do that. I think the boys will cope well with that and we will learn as the season goes on.”
Defeat at Loftus Road was the development squad’s first of the season, having won their league-opener 3-0 against Brentford last weekend.
“It was tough,” Alabi said after the game. “It was a very good experience because we were playing against a lot of experienced pros.
“I think in the first half, we looked a bit starstruck and off the pace. We upped it in the second half and we matched them.
“We were unlucky to concede the two goals. They were very experienced – they get the ball down, play one-touch passes and do the simple things. It is something to look at and learn from.”
Alabi, who has played on the wing in the first two matches of the season, feels that the development squad can act as a springboard into the first team for the club’s brightest young prospects.
“I think a couple of us have what it takes to break into the first team but it is down to us,” he said.
“I think the biggest thing between us and the first team is consistency. If you look at players like Darius Henderson, you know what you will get from him week in, week out. With the younger players we can have a good game one week and a bad game the next.”
Millwall U21s next play on September 4 against Barnet. The match will take place at Millwall’s Calmont Road training ground (kick-off 1pm). Click here for a full development squad fixture list.