STEVE Ball has challenged Colchester United's youngsters to emulate teenager Kwame Poku and seize a first-team spot.

Poku enjoyed a superb breakthrough season last year after making his professional debut for the U's, last September.

The skilful attacker, who turns 19 tomorrow, shone for Colchester as they made the League Two play-offs, landing the club's Young Player of the Year award for the 2019-20 campaign.

Now newly-appointed head coach Ball wants other U's youngsters to make the breakthrough to senior football - and shine for his Colchester side this season.

Ball said: “I remember it vividly, last season.

“We watched Kwame play at Florence Park for the under-23s in a pre-season match and instantly we thought ‘this kid is robust enough, confident enough and certainly good enough to cope with division two’.

“That’s why every game that these kids play is a platform and opportunity to stake a claim.

“We’ve had young players go out on loan but there are also players like (Kwame) Poku who will have their opportunities, too.

“There’s a chance for players who haven’t had loans to hit the ground running in pre-season and show me that they’re at the right levels and they will get chances."

A number of Colchester's young players who spent time out on loan last season will be hoping to impress boss Ball in pre-season.

Noah Chilvers and Ollie Kensdale enjoyed productive spells at National League South side Bath City, while the likes of Jake Hutchinson, Andre Hasanally, Danny Collinge and Sammie McLeod will also be hoping to impress.

“There’s a pathway at our club," added Ball, who is gearing up for the start of the new League Two season on September 12.

“We’ve got young players who have been to the likes of Bath City and Maldon and Tiptree on loan and it’s always done for a reason.

“They’re not sent out on loan just because clubs come in for them.

“They’re sent out on loan because we see that as a huge part of their development plan.

"When they do that and tick those boxes and do well for these clubs and are ready for senior football, that’s a huge thing on their CV in as far as them staking a claim for the first team."