CITY'S return to reserve competition for next season has been welcomed as an important leg-up for the club's rookie professionals.

The Bantams will rejoin the Final Third Development League after a two-year absence.

Like most clubs, they will field a chiefly under-21 side in the reserves and head of academy coaching Steve Thornber believes it can re-establish the bridge between the youth and senior ranks.

City have offered pro deals to four apprentices – Dylan Mottley-Henry, Sam Wright, Joe Brennan and James King.

Thornber admitted there was a risk of youngsters getting lost in the system before because of a lack of competitive games.

He said: "It's something we've highlighted. We've had lads we've signed like Niall Heaton, Adam Baker and Louie Swain who have not really kicked on.

"It should be development and you're not developing if you're not playing games.

"It's all right sending them out on loan to non-league. It's useful for a month but they don't feel part of it really. They need to be around us and playing against these good teams.

"We need to fill that gap and we need players coming in who can progress and get into the first team."

With four out of their eight second-year trainees being retained, City are well above the 20 per cent average nationally.

The return to development league action will also help the club's link with the Richmond International Academic & Soccer Academy (RIASA) under Mark Ellis.

Thornber said: "They've got a squad of about eight elite players who will be available to train with us once a week and then we can integrate them into these matches.

"First and foremost, it will be down to who the manager wants in the side from the first team. Then it will be made up of the young pros.

"We've got a good group of second-year apprentices coming through, so they'll be playing in that team also.

"We've won the (under-18s) league for the last two years, so we're trying to find ways of pushing the academy. We're a category three club with possibly a cat two standard.

"By playing the second years up in the Final Third Development League, it will also give the under-16s a chance to play in the under-18s.

"That's what we are going to do throughout the whole academy and it's a way of testing and pushing the lads."

City lost only three games on their way to retaining the Youth Alliance League title and clinched it with a goal from 14-year-old Casey Taglione.