Ben Whiteman had to earn Nigel Adkins’ trust before being thrust into the Sheffield United first team, the Blades boss has revealed.
Whiteman marked his full Football League debut on Saturday with two assists, as United swept aside Oldham to keep their hopes of a late play-off push alive.
The academy graduate’s composure and range of passing is no secret to those who know him well, but Adkins said: “Ben has stood out in training and it’s vital that I have trust and belief in players. And Ben has earned that trust on the field.
“We’ve reduced the amount of players we have at the club now, so young players have a clearer pathway to the first team - Dom Calvert-Lewin has been involved recently, and Graham Kelly has been on the bench too.
“Clearing a few out lets us get the youngsters up and training with the first team.
“There, they can get to know the players and get used to us and our methods, and we can get a better look at them up close, rather than just watching them in U21 games.
“So it’s better for all involved.”
Six of United’s matchday squad on Saturday came through the ranks - another, 19-year-old Che Adams, joined from Ilkeston - and Adkins added: “Ben still has to get used to playing at Bramall Lane in front of a proper crowd, but he did well, as did Dom when he came on.
“Louis Reed came on, too, and George Long in goal made a really good save to preserve his clean sheet. Then the oldest of them all, Billy Sharp, scored a cracking goal to round things off.
“The lads worked hard out there, and I’m excited by our new 3-5-2 formation.
“There’s a lot more to come from us.”
United - six points behind Yorkshire rivals Bradford, who occupy the final play-off place - travel to fifth-placed Millwall this weekend in another stern test of their top-six credentials.
Adkins hopes Chris Basham and Florent Cuvelier, who both missed the Oldham game with ankle and hamstring injuries respectively, will be available to face Neil Harris’ side.
Meanwhile, United’s academy in India has tasted major tournament success.
The Tata Football Academy (TFA) in Jamshedpur won the 120th edition of the IFA Under-19 Shield by beating the AIFF Elite Academy – the Indian Under-18s side – in the final in Kolkata.
The major achievement follows the team finishing as runners-up in the IFA Under-18 League, narrowly missing out to the Elite Academy in the play-off final.