Aberdeen’s rising young stars will finally return to action tomorrow after a year of near inactivity with a bid to qualify for the UEFA Youth Champions League.
The Dons’ U18s have played just one game, in November, since Scottish football was shut down at all levels last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They will kick-off their Club Academy Scotland campaign against Hearts at Cormack Park (2pm).
All of the U18s’ games this season will be behind closed doors due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The champions of the nine-team mini league will qualify for next season’s UEFA Youth League.
U18 coach Scott Anderson said: “We need a Scottish league champion come the end of the season to get into the UEFA Youth Champions League qualifiers and everyone has been pushing to get the U18s back playing.
“It is a brilliant incentive for the young players that they could qualify for the Youth Champions League and to go and compete against these top players.
“We have managed to get the group back and training at Cormack Park in the afternoons.
“They have only been able to turn up to train and then they have had to go home again, but the main thing is we have got them back out and on to the training pitch.
“From having no football matches at all to having a lot of games in a short space of time is a little bit concerning, because the boys have been out for so long.
“We have had a three-week period to get them ready for that.
“We will be quite young in terms of our squad.
“We have a few in that age group that are out on loan or involved with the first-team bubble.
“The 2005s will make up quite a large part of that squad. We will use it to make sure that we are getting boys back playing and to a certain level.
“It does give us games which is what we are looking forward to.”
Each side will play one another once in the mini league, which will then split into a top and bottom half to find a winner to compete in Europe next season.
‘They have missed a lot of development time’
The Dons U18s have played just one competitive match since all football was shut down last March – a 2-0 defeat of Inverness Caley Thistle in November.
Anderson said: “A lot of the leaning is through competitive action in games.
“The players enjoy training, but there is nothing like playing proper organised games.
“It has been a frustration for them, they have missed a lot of development time, but everybody is in the same boat, we have just got to get on with it.
“Hopefully, this time, once we get back, their development will kick on once we get back to playing these games.
When football was shut down last March, Pittodrie’s U18s were joint top of their league table with Rangers.
They had also secured a slot in the Scottish Youth Cup final against Kilmarnock.
Anderson said: “We don’t know what is happening with the cup final from last season.
“We were told that it was going to go ahead, but that was last year, and we have obviously had another lockdown since then.
“I would be surprised now if it does go ahead.”
The Pittodrie youth academy continues to produce future first team stars with full-backs Calvin Ramsay and Jack MacKenzie recently starting for the first team.
Both full-backs were also recently rewarded with new contracts.
Anderson predicts bright futures for both rising stars.
He said: “I am delighted for Jack; he has waited his time and I thought he did well on his debut.
“He has got a good career ahead of him. I am looking forward to seeing him kicking on.
“It’s the same with Calvin, he is a bit younger, but I am looking forward to seeing them progressing.
“It’s what we in the youth academy love to see and long may it continue.
“Seeing Calvin and Jack making their debuts – it is a big emphasis for the club going forward, to get these young players into the first team.
“They have got to be good enough first and foremost.
“We feel as if it is a good crop and there is a good crop behind it.
“Long may it continue, and hopefully we can see one or two more making their debuts.”