The SPFL Development League, now in its 18th season, is the highest level of youth football in Scotland, where the stars of the future hone their skills.
Seventeen teams compete in the league. 12 represent all of the SPFL Premiership clubs, while five more sides are provided by some of the biggest clubs from the SPFL Championship and League One.
Each club plays each other once home and once away for a total of 32 matches each. There are 34 fixture rounds, with one club sitting out each week, and 272 games across the season. Eligible players are those born in the year 1995 or later, although five players of any age are permitted to be included in the 18-strong match-day squad.
The league, therefore, provides a unique and useful opportunity for young, home-grown players to play and gain experience alongside seasoned professionals before making the step-up to play first-team football.
In the Development League tonight, there are some tasty fixtures, including a few derbies. The tie of the night will be the New Firm derby between Aberdeen and Dundee United at Brechin City’s Glebe Park where, given the sides’ respective reputations for developing young in-house Scottish talent, a number of Scottish stars of the future will likely be on show.
Aberdeen go into the match having won two out of their first three games of the new 2015/16 season, defeating St Mirren 2-0, Motherwell 2-1 before losing 1-0 to Celtic. However, the Dons will not have last season’s league top goalscorer Lawrence Shankland in their ranks tonight.
The 20-year-old striker netted a remarkable 29 goals in the 2014/15 Development League, despite having a 13-game loan spell at Dunfermline Athletic where he also scored seven times. Having impressed at Development League and League One level, the Scotland under-21 cap has begun this season on-loan under manager Ian Murray at St Mirren.
United have begun the new season in a somewhat unexceptional fashion with two 1-1 draws against Ross County and on the opening day against city rivals Dundee. Recent graduates of the Terrors’ Development League squad include Sporting Lisbon wonderkid Ryan Gauld, Derby County’s Johnny Russell and Celtic’s Stuart Armstrong.
The ones to watch this season from the Tannadice factory-line include Scotland under-17 midfielder Ali Coote, in-demand, lightning-fast English winger Justin Johnson and talented 6'6" centre half Harry Souttar, younger brother of United first-team regular John. While Sunderland have twice made bids for John, mega-bucks Manchester City are alleged to be keeping a close eye on Harry.
New signing Harvey Dailly, son of Dundee United legend and Scotland internationalist Christian, who put pen to paper on a two-year-deal yesterday, will go straight into the United squad for tonight’s fixture. The 16-year-old left-sided defender will no doubt be aiming to emulate his father who played on 178 occasions for the Tannadice club, including the famous 1994 Scottish Cup final when he inadvertently set-up Craig Brewster to score the winning goal against treble-chasing Rangers, scoring 21 goals. In 1996 he moved to Derby County for £1 million, before later turning out for the Ibrox club under Walter Smith.
Dundee meet St Johnstone at Links Park in Montrose for a Tayside derby, while Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle will battle it out for bragging rights in the Highland derby at the Global Energy Stadium in Dingwall.
The other four fixtures taking place are Dunfermline versus Hearts at East End Park, Kilmarnock against St Mirren at Rugby Park, Partick Thistle versus Falkirk at Firhill and Rangers against Motherwell in Dumbarton.
The contest between last season’s runners-up and third-place finishers, Celtic and Hamilton Academical respectively, previously scheduled for this evening has been postponed. Having yet to concede a single goal in their first three games – 3-0, 1-0 and 5-0 victories over Partick Thistle, Aberdeen and Hibernian respectively – Celtic will go into the game, when it is eventually played, as strong favourites to get three points on the night and to end the season at the top of the pile. Celtic’s squad includes promising Scotland under-17s stalwarts Aidan Nesbitt, Sean Wardrop and Jack Breslin.