THERE was something of a post-season friendly atmosphere surrounding Town’s final home game of the season, Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the MK Dons.

The visitors were already relegated, while the Blues were out of the play-off hunt and so for both teams it was an exercise in looking to the future.

MK left out all those players manager Karl Robinson doesn’t anticipate being around next season and gave one or two youngsters some first-team experience.

Town did the same, with left-back Myles Kenlock handed his league debut and right-back Josh Emmanuel his third Championship start.

The big positive from the final weeks of the Blues’ unfulfilled season has been the glimpse we’ve had of what looks like a decent crop of youngsters.

Both Kenlock, 19, and Emmanuel, 18, impressed against MK, particularly going forward with the former putting in a superb cross for Luke Varney’s last-minute winner.

As you’d expect with youngsters taking their first steps into senior football, they made the odd error but they’ll have learnt from them and will be better players for the experience.

Prior to that midfielder Andre Dozzell, whose first two-year professional deal was confirmed when he turned 17 on Monday, grabbed the headlines with his debut goal at Sheffield Wednesday, while Paul Digby - currently on loan from Barnsley but set to sign permanently in the summer - also caught the eye with his display at centre-half at Middlesbrough.

In addition to those players - and young midfielders Adam McDonnell, James Blanchfield and Kundai Benyu, who have all been praised by manager Mick McCarthy in recent weeks - 16-year-old striker Ben Morris has joined Dozzell in travelling to Azerbaijan with the England U17s, who start their European Championships group games against Sweden this afternoon.

Fellow academy youngsters, Clacton-born keeper Nick Hayes and Colchester-based schoolboy midfielder Tristan Nydam, both also 16, are on standby.

Morris, Hayes and Nydam will hope they’re the ones in the same position as Emmanuel, Kenlock, Dozzell and Digby this time next year, while the latter quartet will be looking to take their senior Town appearances well into double figures during 2016/17.

Arguably nearer to being a regular week in, week out starter is 19-year-old central defender Matt Clarke, who has spent this season on loan in League Two with Portsmouth, where he has made 30 starts and three sub appearances, scoring once, gaining vital senior experience.

Clarke’s return from his loan means manager Mick McCarthy will have decisions to make over the summer at the heart of his defence.

Is the academy product, a left-sided central defender, ready to take over from the more senior centre-halves who have been fixtures in McCarthy’s backline for the last few seasons?

While far from over the hill, Christophe Berra and Luke Chambers are now 31 and 30 respectively, so McCarthy may already have half an eye on a longer term transition.

Clarke appears to be being groomed for a big future but needs to be given his chance soon, while McCarthy has already told another two central defenders, Josh Yorwerth and Piotr Malarczyk, that they can move on.

The MK Dons game also saw Teddy Bishop, who established himself as a regular during 2014/15, make his first start of an injury-hit campaign, hopefully signally that the much-missed 19-year-old is over his fitness issues and able play a much bigger part next season.

It’s a big plus for the club that players are starting to roll off the academy conveyor belt once again.

In recent years owner Marcus Evans has invested more heavily in the club’s youth set-up, having perhaps not seen its worth during the first few seasons following his takeover.

The reappointment of academy director Bryan Klug in 2012 - he was previously in charge from 1998 until 2006 - is starting to bear fruit, while the head of recruitment, former Colchester striker Steve McGavin, can take much of the credit for bringing in many of the players now breaking through.

Saturday sees the Blues end their season at Derby, who are already certain to face Hull City in a play-off semi-final, although they could push ahead of the Tigers into fourth and claim home advantage in the second leg.

For Town, who are again likely to field one or two youngsters, it’ll just be about finishing what’s ultimately been a disappointing campaign on an upbeat note.