MICKY Adams, the Sheffield United manager, admitted his players have been left mentally scarred by the rigours of a relegation battle.
United remained bottom of the Championship table and eight points adrift of safety after suffering a 14th defeat in 20 games when they were beaten by Preston North End on Saturday.
The result, which means the South Yorkshire club’s League One status could be officially confirmed this weekend, is expected to increase calls for Adams to promote even more members of Bramall Lane’s academy and development programmes through the ranks following the appearance of Jordan Slew, Harry Maguire and Danny Philliskirk at Deepdale.
Their youthful exuberance invited comparisons with the more tentative performances delivered by established members of United’s senior squad.
Adams said: “Jordan, Harry and Danny can all feel proud of how they did. I think they gave us a lift.
“But you’ve got to remember that they’ve not been affected by everything that’s gone on this season like some of the other lads. That’s got to be taken into account.”
Slew celebrated his full debut with a well-taken strike after Keith Treacy’s brace had put Preston in the driving seat at Deepdale. However, with United committing men forward in search of a draw, Nathan Ellington pounced late on to restore the hosts’ two-goal advantage.
With Nick Montgomery, Stephen Quinn and Matthew Lowton starting against Phil Brown’s side, nearly half of Adams’ latest first-choice 11 were graduates of Shirecliffe’s youth system. Montgomery and Quinn could be destined to depart over the summer as United are forced to slash expenditure.
But with Matthew Harriott and David McAllister also travelling to Lancashire, coaching staff have clearly begun the process of assessing potential replacements should the need arise.
“Since I’ve been here I can’t fault the effort or the enthusiasm of the lads,” said Adams. “People can level whatever against them but that’s something, as far as I’m concerned, which has never been in doubt.
“They always go out there and give everything. And they did it again.
“The spirit will be helped by the young lads though because we’ve all got a responsibility to them, a responsibility to set the right example and help.”