John Ward said Alex Gilbey will be the first of many young players to be promoted to Colchester United’s senior squad, over the coming years.

Gilbey, 17, has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the U’s, having impressed as a first-year trainee at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

U’s first-team boss Ward said: “This is just the start and I’ve got real encouragement from the chairman to promote within.

“It’s a real encouragement to all of the other boys as well and it shows again that there are opportunities here and we’re looking to progress that policy.

“We saw Jordan Sanderson get a brief glimpse at the end of last season against Bristol Rovers.

“There are opportunities for these young players and signing Alex is something that we were happy to do.

“Alex was recognised some time ago by our youth department and we knew we had a good young player.

“We’re doing that now too by playing under-16s in our under-18 team.

“It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time and Alex has come through really well.”

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