Travis Binnion, the new head of Sheffield United’s academy, has challenged six of the club’s youngsters to establish themselves as first-team stars after they were handed professional contracts earlier today.
The half dozen starlets - goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, Republic of Ireland left-back Graham Kelly, Northern Ireland midfielder Shea Gordon and striker Kimarni Smith, along with young prospects Connor Hall and Nathaniel Crofts, were handed the deals after impressing United’s coaches.
England youth star Ramsdale and Kelly were in the squad for United’s defeat at Coventry last weekend - the latter making his professional debut as a substitute - and Binnion, recently confirmed as the head of United’s SteelPhalt Academy following Nick Cox’s move to Manchester United, said: “The lads fully deserve their deals.
“They have taken different routes to get to this stage and they all have a lot of work to do to progress further to make an impact at first team level.
“They have all shown a lot of promise and are each good characters as well as players. They and all the staff at the Academy have worked hard to achieve this success.
“The first team staff have shown that there is a pathway at United and now it is down to the lads to take this opportunity.”
Seven players from United’s youth academy - plus 19-year-old Che Adams and Harrison McGahey, aged 20 - were in the visiting squad at the Ricoh Arena as goals from Marc-Antoine Fortune, Andy Rose and Ruben Lameiras ended United’s faint hopes of reaching the play-off places.
Sunday’s clash with Scunthorpe United at Bramall Lane is effectively a dead rubber for the hosts, but the Iron make the journey to South Yorkshire hopeful of overhauling Barnsley and snatching sixth place.
“There are one or two players with knocks but all are wanting to put themselves forward,” Blades boss Nigel Adkins said.
“We had seven young players if you like in the squad last weekend and I think it’s unlikely there will be more.
“We want to win the game and we are taking it seriously, as seriously as any other. We all know the importance of the game for Scunthorpe, Barnsley and Gillingham.
“But, more importantly, for ourselves. We are building and this is part of that process. When we looked at the fixtures at the beginning, we knew this could be a tasty one and that they’d invested heavily.
“It’s just a shame, from our perspective, that’s it’s not a tasty one with promotion riding on it.
“But we want to go out well and will be giving it our all.