CREWE Alexandra’s hopes of a shock push for the Championship could rest on their latest batch of hot prospects.

First team and academy coach James Collins believes it could be a breakthrough season for several of their youngsters planning to fight for a starting place.

Young winger George Cooper, 17, is already being tipped to replace Byron Moore while Callum Saunders, Perry Ng, Fraser Murdoch, James Jones, James Baillie and Callum Prichard-Ellis have also signed professional contracts.

Nick Powell, Ashley Westwood and Luke Murphy have proved there is no stopping the Alex production line in recent years.

However this could be the best collective crop since the days of Dean Ashton, David Vaughan and co who helped achieve Crewe’s champagne years in the second tier – around a decade ago.

“The majority of the first year pros have been here since they were seven or eight years old,” explained Collins.

“It’s always exciting to see them train with the first team and make that step into a professional level.

“It’s good to see a good group come through, especially a tight knit group like they are. Hopefully they will enhance the professional ranks.

“These lads now need to work hard and realise they haven’t cracked it yet. It’s when the work really does start.

"It’s hard to break into that team and into that 11 but when you do, you’ve got to work even harder to stay there.”

One player who will not figure is former Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke. Last year’s top scorer has signed a surprise three-year deal with Belgian side SV Zulte Waregem.

Collins was quick to pay tribute: “He’s a super lad and I really wish him well. I’m not sure why he’s made the decision to go abroad but I’m sure there are some good reasons for it.

“He certainly isn’t after the money. I’ve never known a player who wanted to work as hard as he wanted to. Hopefully he’ll go there and improve.

“I’m sure he’ll be back in England at some point and hopefully as a better player playing at a good level.”

Crewe are still expecting interest in player-of-the-year Matt Tootle while Max Clayton’s future also remains unclear.