Sean Dyche feels there are signs of life in the development squad, to add to Dwight McNeil’s impact at first team level.
McNeil has impressed after starting the last two games, having also started against Olympiakos and Manchester United earlier in the season.
And left back Ali Koiki has also been on the bench of late, with midfielder Josh Benson also travelling with the squad.
Steve Stone’s Under 22s side are second in the Professional Development League, level on points with leaders Birmingham City, and Dyche believes there is an improvement year on year at that level, with Michael Duff’s work not going unnoticed before taking the reins at Cheltenham Town.
McNeil’s progress has shown there can be a pathway to the first team, though Dyche noted: “The key thing is it’s the deserved pathway. It’s not like we put Dwight in for the sake of it, it’s because we think he can deliver performances, which he has done. I think we’ve timed our run well with that.
“It’s not just dropping somebody in, taking them out and you never see them again, it’s been building up slowly but surely.
“He was with us in pre-season, played in two earlier games, been around it, travelling all over the country with us, sometimes on the bench, sometimes not, and a chance arose to make sure he gets his chance, and so far, so good.
“That’s an important thing for the academy to realise, it’s not just dropping them in and taking them out, you have to keep putting the building blocks in, to get to where he’s got to, and we want him to continue.
“Still got a lot more to come and learn, but he’s going about it nicely.”
Asked whether there are more who could emulate McNeil, he added: “There are quite a few who’ve stepped up and trained with us when we need numbers, that’s the good side of our challenge, with the numbers and injuries, these boys have come up with us a lot.
“We’ve had a number from the Under 23 group, and a couple of the younger ones. We like that that’s when they get that taste of what it’s really like, and it gives them that feel of being around it.
“Josh came to Arsenal, he’s been in a couple of squads. There’s life in that group, year on year we’re slowly but surely getting that group to be stronger.”
But chances may be few and far between in terms of starts tomorrow against Barnsley in the FA Cup: “I don’t think starting, but maybe we’ll sneak a few around it. We’ve got to find that fine balance between being competitive - we want to win the game - and keeping some of the senior pros sharp as well.
“I absolutely respect the FA Cup, but it’s not the main challenge, the Premier League is the main challenge, so there’s got to be that balance. But we still want to put out a team that can win and I believe we can win with the team we do put out.
“Every year it’s not like we haven’t been trying to get a cup run or do well, sometimes it works, sometimes it hasn’t, we’ve had a few anomalies along the way.
“Teams have performed, then we haven’t, but it’s a one off, you’ve got to perform on the day.
“The main thing is picking a team I know are capable, and then it’s down to them to deliver.
“But you can’t get away from it, the Premier League is the priority, it still was at the beginning of the season with the Europa League