Rotherham United boss Alan Stubbs admits he hesitated before pairing fledgling duo Dominic Ball and Dael Fry together at the heart of Rotherham United’s defence.
Yet the partnership struck up by the young prospects has played a major part in the Millers’ improved performances in their last two matches.
Rotherham may have lost those games, 2-1 at Championship leaders Huddersfield Town and 1-0 at home to third-placed Newcastle United, but they were close to earning a draw in each fixture and there is now renewed hope they will be able to climb off the foot of the table.
“I was a bit reluctant, from an experience point of view - they are two young lads in a very tough division - to put them together,” Stubbs confessed.
“There’s certainly room for improvement with them. They’re a new partnership. But I have to say they’ve coped really well.”
Ball, aged 21, joined the Millers on a three-year deal from Spurs in the summer while Fry, just 19 and away during the international break with England Under-20s, is on a season-long loan from Middlesbrough.
Their combined age is less than that of their 44-year-old boss who is passing on the wisdom he gained in his own playing career as a Premier League centre-half, and Ball believes their youth could actually work in their favour.
“I think it’s going well,” he said. “Being young, we’re in similar situations. We can understand each other.
“We’re talking and communicating, and I think in each game we’ve got better. It was our first game against Huddersfield and I thought we did well. Against Newcastle, I thought we did even better.”
Rotherham are next in action a week on Saturday, at second-placed Norwich City, and Ball has set the pair a target when they emerge from their fortnight away from league competition.
“We still need to get a clean sheet, to give our attackers the chance to win us the game,” he said. “That’s what we’ll be working on now.
“I think people look for an experienced centre-half and then a younger one, but I think we’ve shown we’re more than capable of doing well together.”
Stubbs said of Fry: “He’s learning. We’re still going through certain things with him. He needs to occupy the centre-forward at times rather than let the centre-forward dictate the position. He’s still letting them back in.
“For a young lad of 19 to be playing against the opposition he has come up against since he’s been here, he’s done really, really well. His performances are very assured on occasions. There’s an assurance that belies his age.”
This week sees the closing date for applications for the role of head of recruitment, with the Millers hoping to make an appointment within the next two weeks.
Left-back Joe Mattock, who missed the Magpies clash after complaining of a tight calf during the warm-up, is expected to train during the break, although the outlook is worse for central midfielder Tom Adeyemi who limped off in the first half, also with a calf complaint.
He has been undergoing tests this week after initial estimates suggested he would be out for a minumum of two to three weeks.