ATHLETIC boss James McPake has vowed that emerging talent will have the chance to play first-team football if they’re good enough.

Three 16-year-olds – Taylor Sutherland, Andrew Tod and Sam Young – were given starting berths in the Pars side that defeated Celtic B in the SPFL Trust Trophy on Tuesday night.

Midfielder Tod, who had made two substitute appearances against East Fife and Buckie Thistle in the group stage of the League Cup, made his first senior start, while central defender Young, and forward Sutherland, made their top-team debuts.

It was a night to remember for Sutherland in particular as, just three minutes into his bow, he headed home Kyle MacDonald’s cross to net the opening goal in Dunfermline’s 2-1 win.

McPake was thrilled with the youngsters’ contribution and, when asked how heartened he was by the prospects coming through, he said: “It’s amazing.

“My background, and it’s something that I’m still really passionate about, and that’s why I’m so close with Darren (O’Dea, Celtic B coach), was working with the under-18s at Dundee.

“I know it’s going back over old ground, but the question came up, and we managed to do really well, and I think six or seven of those players still play in the first team at Dundee just now.

“In myself and Dave’s (Mackay, Dunfermline assistant manager) time there, we gave them, if my numbers are right, 112 appearances between six of the players over a period of two years which, might not sound a lot when you just weigh up 112 appearances, but, for young kids that are 16, 17 and 18, that’s a lot of football and high-pressure games.

“We want to do that here. It starts from the younger ones, then Greg (Shields, head of football in the Pars academy) is the one that then turns them into being able to go out and do what they did tonight; Sam Young, being able to handle playing in a first-team game; Andrew Tod being able to play tactically.

“We spoke about Chris Mochrie tactically against Falkirk, and Andrew did that tonight, and then Taylor. Not even full-time just now but he comes in, shows that movement, and he can last 90 minutes in a physically-demanding game, because they’re super-fit the way they (Celtic) play.

“I speak to Darren a lot. I know how hard they train, I’ve seen them training, they’re a really fit team and, for Taylor to manage to do that, is great.

“For us as a football club, we want to pride ourselves on our academy and we want to pride ourselves on the first team. It all comes together.

“If they’re good enough, they’ll play. If anybody goes back and looks at what myself and Dave have done, if there’s a young boy ready to play, he’s played, whether that’s been at Celtic Park, whether it’s been in a play-off final or whether it’s been in a pre-season friendly.

“If somebody’s good enough to play, then we’ll certainly play them. Those boys are starting to get on that journey where they’re training with us every day. But we also need to err on the side of caution, and be patient, because they’re young, they make mistakes. Mistakes hurt them a wee bit more than, say, a Kyle Benedictus, because it takes them longer to get over it.

“That’s where we’ve got to support them, that’s where Greg’s great with them and the club are great with them.

“We’ve got to be patient, but we believe in what we do. I believe in what Greg does, it’s been great working with him along with them, and I certainly believe in what Dave does and what myself does in terms of the younger kids. I think Chris Mochrie’s a prime example of that as well.

“It’s not down to us in that, but we’ve brought him in, trusted him to go and play, and he’s been excellent. He’s a fantastic young player as well.”

McPake added: “For Taylor, Sam and Andrew, I’m delighted, and for Greg as well, because the work they do – and, bearing in mind, when I first came in, I was delighted we had our academy back, and it was our academy, not Fife Elite and whatever. It’s Dunfermline Athletic Academy.

“They’ve got loads and loads to go, loads of work to do, but they’re going in the right direction. You saw that tonight.

“I think for the football club it was a really good night.”