SHEFFIELD United will have no qualms about pitching Kyle Walker into the heat of a promotion battle, Bramall Lane coach Gary Speed has insisted, after revealing the youngster was hand-picked for last weekend's visit of Swansea City because of his power, pace and athleticism.
Walker celebrated his first league start for Kevin Blackwell's side by delivering a performance laced with poise and maturity as he successfully nullified the threat posed by Nathan Dyer during Saturday's victory which saw United move to within a point of second place with just one game left to play.
With Leigh Bromby and Sun Jihai – two vastly experienced professionals – both available for selection, the decision to ask Walker, who despite impressing coaching staff this season remains relatively untested, to start at full-back, raised eyebrows before kick-off.
But Speed said: "There were no reservations about putting him in.
"He played for us at Hull (in the FA Cup) recently and that was a big occasion.
"He did really well there and so we knew there would be no problems.
"The back four has been especially solid lately and it is important that continued.
"Kyle's athletic and he's got raw pace and power.
"There was never going to be any difficulty about letting him go in there.
"Everyone at the club knew he would handle it."
Speed, who refused to rule-out the possibility of making a return to action following a back problem if United are condemned to the play-offs, insisted that Blackwell's squad will cope with the pressure they will encounter at Crystal Palace on Sunday as they attempt to climb above Birmingham in the Championship table.
Alex McLeish, Blackwell's counterpart at St Andrews, last night launched an appeal against Lee Bowyer's sending-off during their home defeat by Preston North End at the weekend.
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