IRRESPECTIVE of whether they lift the FA Youth Cup this season, Sheffield United hope tonight’s semi-final tie with Aston Villa will mark the start of a new golden era at Bramall Lane.
The South Yorkshire club, attempting to reach the final of this prestigious competition for the first time in its 58-year history, believe several of those on display possess the qualities required to forge careers at senior level.
Sharp skills and good old-fashioned discipline, which prohibits youngsters from wearing loose shirts or brightly-coloured boots, have been cited as reasons behind their success.
But coach John Pemberton attributes it to something else.
A sense of place and belonging.
“I want them to appreciate what this club is all about,” Pemberton, who made nearly 80 appearances for United as a player, said. “Make them feel a part of it, that it’s theirs.
“That means mums and dads too.
“I’m an adopted Sheffielder but when I played here it was full of local lads and you could tell what it meant to them.
“But youngsters from away can also get the same feeling for the place. And that’s what we’re trying to instil in them.”
“It doesn’t matter who they support either,” added Pemberton. “We’ve got Sheffield Wednesday supporters in our system just as Wednesday have got United fans in theirs.
“The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that the feel a part of Sheffield United, that they identify with it and regard it as their own.”
The contest between United and Villa is still delicately poised despite the visitors’ impressive display in the Midlands three weeks ago.
Joe Ironside’s goal on the stroke of half-time sees Pemberton’s charges enter the second leg enjoying a slender advantage. But they will be without Jordan Slew following the striker’s red card at Villa Park.
“It was a tough game but we played very well,” said Pemberton. “Especially with regards to the way he kept possession before the break.
“After that we had to concentrate on defending because Villa are a very good side but the fact they had one shot at goal tells its own story.
“Nevertheless, Villa have got some very good players at their disposal and we found it difficult to get on the ball after half-time.
“That means you’ve also got to give credit to the opposition which means we’ve had some work to do since then.”
The progress of Pemberton’s squad has been a rare success story for United during what – at Championship level at least – has been a difficult campaign.
The 46-year-old has deservedly won plaudits for his work since building on the solid foundations left by his predecessor, Ron Reid.
But, as Pemberton is acutely aware, the acid test of his methods will be how many members of a side which has dispatched Cheltenham, Millwall, Blackpool and Leicester en route to the later stages eventually grace the first team.
Slew, Harry Maguire, Matt Harriott and goalkeeper George Long have all been involved with Micky Adams’ squad of late.
“Hopefully we get a good crowd down to watch us,” said Pemberton. “Not only would it help the lads and be what they deserve but also it would be another important part of their development.
“We’ve played on some big stages recently and learning how to handle those situations is all part of the learning curve.
“We try to be strong technically and do a lot of work on that. We try to pass the ball because if you can do that then you can adapt to a number of different styles later on in your career.
“Adapting to different game plans is all part of what you have to do if you go through to senior level. The same goes for different environments and challenges.”
Admission for tonight’s game will be £3 adults and £1 concessions. Season-ticket -holders who have claimed a ticket from the box office will be granted free entry.