STEPHEN Purches hailed the return of competitive reserve football to the south of England and revealed it would allow his Cherries development squad players to maximise their potential.

The Development League has historically featured teams from the Midlands, North Wales and the north.

But next season Cherries will feature in the all-new Southern Division alongside Luton Town, AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge United, Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Peterborough United and Portsmouth.

Cherries' first-team hopefuls have been without league action since the Football Combination folded in 2012 and Purches was buoyant about the prospect of regular game time.

He told the Daily Echo: “This league will give us 14 fixtures and will allow the lads to understand game management better.

“We managed to get 25 games last season but this league will enable us to get more in the bag and we can still organise friendlies against other teams when we feel we need them.

“It was always tough playing in the Combination League because squads were smaller and the games ended up being a mix of out-of-favour first-team and youth team players.

“Sometimes it was hard to get a team together, whereas now the squads are bigger and we've got players who need regular games.

“This is only going to help. As a category three club, this is the best we can get at the moment and it's a little step towards getting better players to play for this football club.

“The league will still give us the flexibility to send out our lads on loan to gain competitive football, but when they do play for us, there is an extra edge in games.”

While eight teams will compete in the inaugural Southern Division season, additional clubs have expressed an interest in competing from 2015-16.

Development League president Ernest Barron has stressed that top talent has blossomed as a result of the setup, including current England internationals.

He said: “We are confident the move to a national structure will give us a robust platform on which to help clubs develop young players further.

"The likes of Rickie Lambert, Joe Hart, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Ben Foster all played in the Development League a decade ago and this summer they will represent England at the World Cup.

“We hope many more will make their first competitive steps in men's football this way.”