The PL2 league campaign ended for Boro's youngsters with a 3-0 Play-Off defeat to Brighton at the Amex Stadium last Friday.

Our Under-23s had also reached the quarter-final stage of the Premier League Cup, while they have a Riverside curtain call to look forward to against Scarborough FC in the final of the North Riding Senior Cup on May 16.

"I think it's been excellent," Stephenson said.

"I'm delighted with the pathway the club are creating, and Craig [Liddle, Academy Manager] and the manager [Tony Pulis] - that's what they are wanting it as well.

"We've got to keep challenging and testing these young players.

"The day you don't is the day that they stagnate."

It proved to be a season of two halves for Stephenson's youngsters.

Several prominent members of the Boro side that was challenging at the top end of the PL2 table by December subsequently headed out on loan in the January window to pick up senior experience.

The likes of top scorer George Miller, Marcus Tavernier, Nathan McGinley and Lewis Wing all departed to clubs in League One and League Two.

That meant a step up for a number of younger faces in the second half of the campaign.

"I think there was an adjustment period, and I think you saw that," Stephenson said.

"To lose six players who were doing well - which they should do, by the way, at that level - it took a bit of transition.

"Once the younger lads (Under-18s) were knocked out of the FA Youth Cup, they stepped up and really came to the fore.

"It's the right strategy from the club, it creates a pathway. It's far better to have it that way than the younger ones not having the chance to step up and progress."

Watch the full interview with Paul Stephenson above.