This summer the Dundee academy setup was under threat thanks to the financial situation brought about by the coronavirus shutdown.
This week, though, the benefits of a thriving youth structure were evident when the Dark Blues had five academy products on the pitch during their Betfred Cup win over Cove Rangers.
A smaller first-team squad and a host of injuries have offered up the opportunities for the club’s young players to shine.
Midfielder Max Anderson impressed from the start alongside the club’s longest-serving player Cammy Kerr, while off the bench came youngsters Cammy Blacklock and Jack Wilkie, with Daniel and Luke Strachan named as substitutes once more in a senior competitive match.
Manager James McPake was full of praise for the work the young players have put in on the training ground and says they fully deserved to make their debuts, even if time was limited.
He said: “I must give a massive shout out to the academy kids, Cammy Blacklock and Jack Wilkie, for making their debuts.
“We had Max Anderson, Finlay Robertson and Cammy Kerr on the pitch, who all came through the academy, and that’s what we are trying to be as a football club.
“Massive credit goes to the academy as well because they are producing players for us who can go out on the pitch.
“It would have been nicer to do it earlier but it was fully deserved for the boys to get their chance for what they did in training.”
So what do we know about the current batch of youngsters knocking on the door of a first-team slot?
The eldest of the current crop, 19-year-old Anderson put in his strongest performance to date in a Dundee shirt against Cove. Strong running from midfield caused the League One leaders plenty of problems, with one such run winning a penalty and seeing a visiting defender sent off for fouling him. Anderson made his first start in the win over Brora Rangers, setting up a Danny Mullen goal. With central midfielder Graham Dorrans moved on, Anderson now has a great chance to lay claim to a regular starting spot. Performances like Tuesday night won’t hurt one bit.
Buzzing to make my debut last night. Good performance from the team and hopefully more opportunities to come💙. https://t.co/lTsmvged9B
— Jack Wilkie (@JackWilkie_) November 11, 2020
Son of former Dundee, United and Scotland defender Lee, Wilkie wore the No. 20 shirt his father donned when making his debut back in 1999. Having taken a place on the bench at Alloa last week, young Wilkie got a first taste of top-team football in the closing stages against Cove. Still at school, the 16-year-old St John’s Academy pupil joined up with first team training just last week after being given special dispensation. He had been part of Dundee United’s setup but with a lot of competition for centre-half spots he chose to head across to Dens Park, a decision which has paid off so far.
Proud dad Lee, a regular columnist with the Tele, said: “I’m obviously delighted to see Jack make his debut.
“When Cove were down to nine men and Dundee scored late goals I thought ‘Jack might get a chance here.’ It was the perfect scenario and he was buzzing afterwards.
“He gets to train most days with Iain Jenkins at St John’s, a really experienced coach, which is great and has really enjoyed it at Dundee. He’s training under guys like Scott Robertson, Stephen Wright, Gordon Strachan and James McPake – you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Another who is still a schoolboy, Blacklock made an appearance in pre-season and has really pushed on in recent times. The 16-year-old is another who is only able to join in with first-team training a couple of days a week because of his school work at Baldragon Academy but showed in his fleeting debut on Tuesday he’s not afraid to take men on, with a direct run setting up a shooting chance for Declan McDaid.
— Dundee Football Club (@DundeeFC) September 29, 2020
Still too young for first-team football, Murray joined Blacklock in featuring against Peterhead in pre-season. The 15-year-old left-back even opened the scoring for the Dark Blues in their 4-0 win and the club have high hopes for his development. Turning 16 later this month, Murray may well get a chance to join the likes of Blacklock and Wilkie in making a first-team appearance this season.
The 19-year-old grandson of Dee technical director, Gordon Strachan, Luke has appeared on the Dark Blues bench on a number of occasions this season. However, he’s had to wait before making family history as the third generation Strachan to appear for the club. Father Gavin, now a coach at Celtic, spent a short spell on loan from Coventry in 1999, featuring six times for Dundee under Jocky Scott. Luke, meanwhile, went on loan to Brechin City last season.
No relation to Luke, Danny, an Aberdonian, has also popped up on the bench a number of times this season but is yet to appear on the pitch. The 18-year-old defender spent time on loan at Tayport from January onwards.
Out on loan:
Josh Mulligan is at Peterhead but suffered an injury against Dundee United in the Betfred Cup which has kept him out of their entire campaign so far. The 17-year-old made his debut in Dundee’s last Premiership outing and has made four appearances in total.
Central midfielder Kyle Fleming, meanwhile, knocked in two goals while on loan at Annan Athletic this week as they romped to a 5-1 win at Albion Rovers.
Lyall Cameron is another who has appeared in the Dundee senior side recently but is currently on loan at Peterhead alongside Mulligan. The 18-year-old playmaker has turned out seven times for Jim McInally’s side so far, scoring once.
Defender Sam Fisher recovered from a serious knee injury picked up while on loan at East Kilbride this year and has joined Forfar until January. He has played six times so far this term.
Striker Michael Cunningham is on loan at Edinburgh City where he has made two appearances from the bench.
Goalie Harrison Sharp is also at Ainslie Park but is yet to play, having been understudy to No 1 Calum Antell.