EDDIE Howe has tasked members of the Cherries development squad to start bridging the gap to the first team after putting plans in place for next season.

Boss Howe admits the challenge is “probably one of the toughest things to do” but insists the players will be given every opportunity to prove themselves.

Seven members of the squad - Baily Cargill, Brandon Goodship, Ben Whitfield, Jon Muleba, Harry Cornick, Josh O'Hanlon and Sam Matthews - are under contract for at least another two years.

And Josh Wakefield, Josh Carmichael, Aristide Bassele and Harrison Gilkes are all expected to be offered fresh terms when their current deals expire at the end of this season.

Howe, following consultation with development squad coach Stephen Purches, this week released Samir Bihmoutine, Lewis Lindsay and Chad Collins.

And four players - Jordan Holmes, Josh Kaye, Callum Buckley and Mason Walsh - were rewarded with their first professional contracts after graduating from the youth ranks.

Goalkeeper Holmes was handed a two-year deal, while Kaye and Buckley received 12 months and Walsh, son of ex-Spurs and Portsmouth striker Paul Walsh, was given an initial three months.

A feather in the cap for the club's youth set up saw Cargill become the latest player to make his Football League debut, the 18-year-old lining up for loan club Torquay.

Howe, asked what plans he had for the development squad, told the Daily Echo: “Slowly but surely, we hope to increase numbers and quality. The squad has only been going since the start of last season and it takes time to put together a new team. We are still forming a nucleus of players that we feel will hopefully be good enough to supplement the first team.

“We released three players who we didn't feel could push to get a first-team place in the next year to 18 months and we may look to recruit from outside. We are developing a pool of good, young players and, for the group to work, we always need to look to increase the quality.

“Baily Cargill is a prime example of how you can develop players if you can get the balance right and that is what we are looking to do. We will keep the other players and they will form the nucleus of the team that we want to move forward with.

“As they get older, there will come a time that they are either going to have to break into the first-team squad or we will have to part company. There is a pressure on them to try to make the break and that is not an easy thing to do, especially when you compare our squad now with a few years ago.

“It is probably one of the toughest things to do for any young player so we want to give them opportunities but they have to prove they are better than our current players.”