Dover manager Andy Hessenthaler believes early exposure to National League football helped George Wilkinson’s development.

The 17-year-old midfielder is in week two of a fortnight trial with Championship side Stoke City, having broken into the Dover first team this campaign.

Dover midfielder George Wilkinson – on trial in Stoke this week. Photo: Barry Goodwin (55466547)

Wilkinson made his sixth start of the season at FC Halifax last Saturday and also has five substitute outings to his name after making his league debut as recently as January.

“We had George in Stoke last week and he’s there for a second week now,” Hessenthaler explained.

“They asked me if they could take a closer look at him and as a club we couldn’t say no – how can you get in his way?

“We’ve had a conversation with Stoke and I’m sure they’ll make it right if they want to take him. He didn’t hurt himself either on Saturday in Halifax.

“His age scares me, just 17, and physically he is quite strong in our league. Training regularly with us has helped him and he is picking up the pace of the game now.

“There was a game at the start when it was too far away, but that’s the learning curve, going from academy football to National League games.”

Hessenthaler has bloodied Academy products Wilkinson Luke Baptiste, Noah Carney and Harrison Byfield this season, while 18-year-old Will Moses made his first start since playing at Aldershot in October 2020 at the weekend last following a long-term injury.

All deserve their place on merit according to the boss of the Merengues.

“The kids are showing how good they are and we have to try to promote them,” Hessenthaler added.

“I hope the fans recognize that and come out and support them, watch them play and see how good they are.

“We are focusing on that until the end of the season. Will Moses had his first start in over a year, played out of position in midfield and did very well. George Wilkinson also started and Luke Baptiste and Harrison Byford entered.

“You still need to have experienced players in the team, even if they themselves are quite young in most cases with an average age of 21!

“We can’t throw too many (at once) but it’s good that they are doing well at this level of football.

“That’s key for the club going forward, if they can play at this level they can definitely play at the lower level next season.”

Dover‘s impending relegation could be mathematically confirmed this Saturday.

If Dover fail to win at home to Yeovil or Aldershot beat King’s Lynn, they will be relegated with 11 campaign games – a quarter of the season – still to go.

“It was happening and it’s a shame, but even before we kicked a ball it was always going to be tough because we have the smallest budget in this league,” Hessenthaler said.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the sides at the bottom of the table, not just Dover, are the ones with the smallest budgets.

“It was always going to be a mountain to climb and deep down maybe we knew this day was coming (when we started).

“Of course we want to be in the non-league top flight, but next season Dover will be in a league where we can compete financially.”