A trio of loan starlets were on the scoresheet on Saturday as Paul Heckingbottom’s men beat fellow play-off hopefuls Walsall to storm into the top six.
Ashley Fletcher, Josh Brownhill and Harry Chapman all started the game and found the back of the net to stretch the Reds’ remarkable run to 11 wins in 13 matches.
With wing wizard Adam Hammill available again after suspension and star striker Sam Winnall making good progress in his recovery from injury, starting spots are at a premium. But Heckingbottom sees no reason why his talented teenagers shouldn’t keep hold of their shirts if they continue to play well.
“It’s tough because everyone has been coming off the bench and performing,” said the caretaker boss, who has been nominated for February’s Manager of the Month award.
“We’re going to look at it as an opportunity for every player; if we think the team needs freshening up we’ll freshen it up. But likewise we know we’ve got a full squad of players there who are good enough and hungry enough to win games for us.
“It’s going to be tough on anyone left out but we expect them then to come off the bench and have a big impact on the game.”
Chapman’s first for the club came after a fine solo run that capped a terrific performance, leading Heckingbottom to sing the Middlesbrough loanee’s praises.
“He’s got an old head on young shoulders,” he added. “He was a threat on the counter attack and his understanding of the game is very good.
“It was the positions he was taking up off the ball in the first half that was causing them problems, and it was the position and his anticipation second half which meant he was able to counter and get a terrific goal.”
Callum Connolly, 18, also impressed on his league debut at full-back after joining from Premier League outfit Everton.
“It was an excellent debut,” reflected Heckingbottom. “You can see why he’s rated very highly by Everton. He was absolutely buzzing.”