ALEX NEIL admits he will be "astonished" if bigger clubs don't try to snatch his Hamilton starlets after their superb start to the season.

Home-grown youngsters such as Ziggy Gordon, Ali Crawford and Grant Gillespie have all caught the eye as Accies have soared to second spot in the SPFL Premiership with four top-flight wins on the trot.

The club has banked around £2million in sell-on fees from Wigan thanks to the big-money transfer deals that took James McCarthy to Everton last September then James McArthur to Crystal Palace this week.

And Hamilton's dedication to youth development continues to pay dividends as the next crop of kids progress under Academy Director George Cairns and Accies assistant manager Frankie McAvoy.

Their Under-20 side remain top of the Development League after beating Rangers 3-0 on Tuesday at New Douglas Park.

While first-team boss Neil is confident his youngsters have the talent to shine at a higher level, he is keen to keep them for as long as possible.

He said: "If a bigger club does come in for any of them, the money would have to be significant because they are doing so well and there is still more scope for improvement.

"I will be astonished if some teams don't come in for our young players if we continue to do what we're doing. When you see how well they are playing, it would surprise me if there was no interest. But I don't want to lose them and neither does the club."

Neil revealed he'd discussed the future of Accies' new batch of promising youngsters with former chairman Ronnie MacDonald and current chief Les Gray.

"The last thing they want is to move these players on," Neil said. "We want to build a team that is going to be successful for the next couple of years.

"I have spoken to the group and let them know we want to keep these players together and try to achieve something."

FIVE years ago McCarthy clinched his transfer to Wigan before McArthur moved a year later but the pair remain the standard bearers for Hamilton's Academy set-up.

Former manager Billy Reid pitched the midfield pair into first-team action at a young age and Neil will do the same with the next group of potential stars of the future.

"The important thing about McArthur and McCarthy is that they both stayed here for a number of years," he said. "They didn't move on like some other prospects to Celtic or Rangers. They decided to stay and further their football education here.

"Getting to play regularly in our first team certainly helped them. If we can keep kids here we will bring them on.

"If youngsters go to Celtic or Rangers, they are not going to get their chance at 16 or 17. But here, if you have settled well enough in the squad, you will get those games.

"I've had numerous players about the squad and on the bench this year who are only 17 or 18. That would not be the same at bigger clubs."

Despite producing two multi-million pound players and a string of first-team stars, some boys still turn their backs on a chance to sign for Hamilton.

Accies have lost several good prospects to the Old Firm in recent seasons but Neil reckons the tide is turning.

"This season is one of the few where we've managed to keep all our players," he said. "Things are starting to change now and parents, in particular, are realising they don't want their sons to make the wrong career choice for the sake of an extra £50 at the age of 17.

"When you are 22 and not playing football, that £50 will not make any difference. It is all about the football for us, certainly at youth level.

"We won't promise young players lots of cash but we can assure them that if they kick on and develop, they'll get the chance to play in our first team.

"Then they will have the potential to make big money, as McCarthy, McArthur and the other guys have done."