Last time Jimmy Phillips was in charge of the first team, he didn't actually make too many sweeping changes to the squad dynamic. He dropped the likes of Zat Knight, Darren Pratley, Keith Andrews and David Ngog but these were replaced with senior players on the whole with Benik Afobe (on loan) being the only real young player he showed any faith in, despite making space on the bench for the likes of academy graduates Jay Lynch and Joe Riley.
However, times have changed. Back then we were - on paper - one of the best teams in the Championship, whereas now we're one of the worst, who have relied much more heavily on younger players and academy graduates than we did back then.
This begs the question whether, with nine games left and with many underperforming senior players out of contact at the end of the season, we'll see a few more make the step up. I'll also look ahead to who I think could make an impact next season with our squad probably threadbare.
Goalkeeper is a position where I genuinely believe we'll promote from within. I've never been overly enamoured by Ben Amos, but I do think he would make a decent League One goalkeeper. On the other hand, he is one of our highest earners on around £16,000 a week and he might still have enough stock from his time at Manchester United to earn a move to a lower end Championship team. He also has three years left to run on his contract so we could feasibly get some sort of money for him.
Paul Rachubka is out of contract at the end of the season and is also a bit rubbish so I can see him being shifted. Ross Fitzsimons will probably be off as well, with him being out of contract and after falling to fourth choice in the pecking order.
I wouldn't be too surprised to see Harry Campbell make the step up, either this season or next. He's been around the first team for a while now and whilst it's not ideal to throw a young goalkeeper straight into the mix, look at what's happened with Milan who've blooded 17-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma with great success. I'm not saying Campbell's on the same level but he did start against Motherwell in the Testimonial earlier this season without conceding.
Further down the academy is of course William Jaaskelainen, but this season he's been usurped by an even younger goalkeeper - 17-year-old Jake Turner. Turner made his debut for the U21s earlier in the season (when he was still 16) and performed well by all accounts, to make his debut for the U21s at such a young age as well shows that the Academy must have a huge amount of faith in him and this bodes well going forward.
Obviously this season't biggest success story is Rob Holding, the man is a machine. His partnership with Derik Osede has been one of the bright spots of the last few weeks. Whilst I personally love David Wheater, I don't think this should be disrupted, especially with £17,000 a week Wheater being out of contract come the end of the season.
I wouldn't be totally surprised to see Quade Taylor's recent loan move to Dagenham and Redbridge be a pre-cursor to a permanent move, with him out of contract at the end of the season and behind Alex Finney (not strictly an academy graduate) in the pecking order. I do rate Finney and think he has a chance but for now he's behind Derik and Holding for me, but it's always good to have strength in depth.
At right-back, I think Niall Maher has a chance of stepping up. He's highly rated in the youth system, is the captain of the U21s and was part of Jimmy Phillips' first first-team training session. He is out of contract at the end of the season so I wouldn't be surprised to see him given a run at right-back or even left-back before the end of the season to see if he's up to it at first-team level.
For some reason Filip Twardzik has another year left to run on his contract, however with him very much being a Neil Lennon signing, I'd be surprised to see him fit in, despite doing okay on the left of a back three for the U21s.
There's also a bit of nepotism in the youth ranks with Callum Spooner and Jimmy's son Nat Phillips being regulars for the U21s but I think our new interim manager and one of his assistants Nicky Spooner would be hard pressed to justify including either just yet, both being rather lightweight. I always say though that it's hard to judge defenders at youth level, exemplified by Holding's meteoric rise.
Eddie Skelly has written a great article about Oscar Threlkeld's move to midfield this season and his future at Bolton Wanderers so I won't elaborate much further on that - beyond saying that I think when he comes back on 9th April, he'll be basically playing for a new contract.
I think that Tom Walker is nailed-on to start in Phillips' first game in charge against Bristol City, especially after Liam Feeney's departure. Walker is unbelievably rated in the Academy with certain members of staff thinking he has more potential than Zach Clough so this is one that I think is a no-brainer.
In the centre of the park, I think that Phillips' appointment will also mean starts for Josh Vela in his natural position with underperformers like Mark Davies and Darren Pratley at risk of being dropped to accomodate him.
In terms of younger players, Alex Perry is the one that stands out to me. I was very surprised to learn that Perry only just turned 18 last week as he seems to have been around the U21s for quite a long time. He's very calm in possession and he definitely has age on his side.
There's also Chris Cvetko who is only 18-years-old as well. Cvetko extended his scholarship last season and he plays week-in-week-out for the U21s so the club must see something. He is capable of scoring a screamer every now and then but I've also seen a number of his shots sail high and wide so hopefully he's one that proves me wrong.
Firstly, I think (hope) that Phillips knows how to get the best out of Zach Clough and get him back firing. I do think that Clough will be off in the Summer but I hope we can see him playing at his best a few more times before he inevitably leaves.
Again he's not an academy player but I can imagine there will be an outcry if Phillips doesn't start Kaiyne Woolery. However, according to friend of the site Marc Iles during the 50th anniversary LOVPod, Woolery might be looking elsewhere and Oxford United made their interest public earlier in the season.
Another player who isn't from the academy and who might be looking elsewhere is Alex Samizadeh. This is a shame because despite lacking physical attributes, he does look extremely good for his age and buzzes around the pitch in a similar fashion to Carlos Tevez.
Jamie Thomas has got a little bit of stick from me in the past. Long story short, I feel like he needs to add more facets to his game to be an effective striker at senior level. His goal record for the U21s isn't particularly amazing either when compared to previous strikers such as Conor Wilkinson and Tom Eaves, who have both obviously failed to transfer goals in the reserves to the first team. I'd love him to prove me wrong and become a Jordan Rhodes-esque goalscorer but the jury's out.
I like George Newell, he's a physical presence and makes a nuisance of himself but as he's not actually an Academy graduate, I won't go into too much depth. There's also a few others in with a chance like Enock Likoy-Elumba, who was involved in a first-team squad last season despite not making the bench.
Further down in the U16s, Nicky Spooner name-dropped a few players in an interview with the club's Youtube channel. Namely Dennis Politic, Matthew Fearnley and Luca Navarro; so it will interesting to see how these progress over the next couple of years.