COACH Stephen Purches admits bridging the gap between under-21s and the Cherries first team has been a big ask for his players but believes they are making giant strides in an attempt to catch up.

Cherries’ rapid rise from the depths of League One to the Premier League under boss Eddie Howe has understandably left other areas of the club struggling to keep pace.

While most top-flight clubs have category one academies and compete in Premier League 2, Cherries are category three and their under-21s play in the Central League.

The difference in status also means Cherries’ under-18s line up against other Football League teams in the Youth Alliance, while most Premier League clubs take part in a top flight comprising two divisions.

Purches, who coaches the under-21s, last week saw striker Brandon Goodship, 22, join Yeovil on a free transfer, having come through the ranks and spent 10 years with Cherries.

Had it not been for Cherries’ meteoric climb, players like Goodship would probably have had more of an opportunity to establish themselves at first-team level – something Purches did after signing for Cherries following his release from West Ham in 2000.

Purches told the Daily Echo: “We all want the same thing, supporters and coaches. We want to get players in and around the first-team environment.

“It is what drives you every day. We are trying to help create professional footballers and give them a career in the game, whether that is with us or another club.

“If their pathway is not with us and our first team, you would hope there is a chance they will play professional football elsewhere and at a good standard.

“Hopefully, they will have been well schooled and clubs can look at them and know what type of player they are going to get.”

Purches has seen the likes of Baily Cargill, Matt Butcher, Jordan Lee and Corey Jordan all involved with the first team over the past couple of seasons.

He added: “We are providing these lads with a chance to have a career. If they get to a certain age or there is an opportunity for them somewhere else, they will move on.

“The first team has progressed so quickly and we are still trying to catch up. We have players with great potential in our group but only time will tell if they are going to be good enough.

“The focus must be on the first team and rightly so. We need to lay foundations behind that over the next few years.

“The quality of our coaching, player recruitment and everything else needs to marry up with the first team so the manager gives them a chance to get involved.

“Some players will come through, others may have to drop down to come back up. If they do that, there are provisions in contracts whereby the club will benefit.”

Cherries will take a youthful squad to Gosport Borough in the quarter-finals of the Hampshire Senior Cup tonight (7.45pm)

Beaten finalists in 2013, Cherries reached the quarter-finals in 2014 and the last four in 2015 but were knocked out by eventual winners Havant & Waterlooville in the second round last season.

Hampshire Senior Cup quarter-finals: Basingstoke Town v AFC Stoneham, Gosport Borough v Cherries, Hartley Wintney v AFC Totton, Sholing v Winchester City.