Nigel Adkins has backed Ben Whiteman for a bright Bramall Lane future after revealing that Sheffield United’s coaching staff have a lot of belief in the 19-year-old starlet.
Whiteman, the latest to roll off United’s academy production line, made his Football League debut in defeat to Burton at Bramall Lane earlier this month - and marked his first start with two assists in a 3-0 victory over Oldham.
He played a big hand in United’s winner against Crewe on Friday, again after coming off the bench, and Adkins told BBC Radio Sheffield: “I’ve talked from the day I came here about there being a pathway for the youngsters to reach the first team.
“I’ve tried to do that at every club I have been at, and it’s important to do it here too.
“It’ll be interesting to see how Ben develops. We see him in midfield but he’s played in several different positions before; he can play centre-half, right wing back, holding midfield and attacking midfield, too, which is where we’ve been playing him in the first team.
“He’s athletic, has a good stature, a good range of passing and can score goals, too. Ben’s training with us all the time now, and getting time on the pitch too, so we’re hoping he can flourish over the next year or so.
“Certainly, we have a lot of belief in him.”
Whiteman combined with Louis Reed to set up Billy Sharp’s winner against Alex - a game which United finished with five academy graduates on the pitch. Youngsters Graham Kelly and David Brooks were also unused substitutes.
“Our U18s and U21s have long unbeaten records so it’s up to us to give them a go in the senior squad,” Adkins added.
“Otherwise, how are they going to develop if we don’t give them that opportunity and back them?
“I started as a goalkeeper at 17, so I’ve been through it, and it’s a case of sink or swim really. But, of course, you need experience to back them up, too, and nurture them going forward.”
Che Adams, himself still a youngster at 19, and Ryan Flynn put United 2-0 up against Crewe before Billy Sharp, another homegrown Blade, scored a late winner.
“The boys dug in near the end and got the three points, which is the most important thing,” Adams, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Southend, said.
“Crewe are good team who pass it around well... I don’t think they deserve to be in relegation trouble with the way they play. They gave us a good game but we got the win which is important.
“I got the goal and could have had three, which is how football is. Billy and I have a good understanding and thankfully, it came off on the pitch. We’ll look to keep that going.”